There is a lot of buzz about the potential political impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling on King vs. Burwell. The plaintiffs in that case are arguing that federal subsidies for health insurance policies bought through the federal Obamacare exchange are illegal because, you know, that’s what the law says and stuff. The plain text of Obamacare provides subsidies only for policies bought through state-run exchanges.
The idea is that, because most states didn’t create their own exchanges, Obamacare will collapse if the feds can’t subsidize policies bought through the exchanges.
But as much as Republicans detest Obamacare, and as much as public opinion is with them generally, if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies for federal exchange policies that’s going to leave a lot of Americans in a financial lurch losing subsidies in an environment where health insurance costs are already skyrocketing.
That’s a political conundrum for Republicans. Not a single Republican voted for Obamacare, yet the fallout from a glaring error in that poorly crafted law may land squarely on their heads. And Republicans are scared.
Nationally Republicans are expressing support for possibly extending Obamacare subsidies if the Supreme Court strikes them down. Here in North Dakota, Governor Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem joined our state to an amicus brief supporting the legality of the subsidies because, as Stenehjem put in in a statement to me, “the income tax liability of as many as 11,000 North Dakotans will be affected by the outcome of this US Supreme Court decision.”
Stenehjem was the only Republican signatory of the brief.
What Republicans are hoping to avoid is getting blamed for costing millions of Americans – thousands here in North Dakota – their subsidies for health insurance.
Yet for all the talk about the potential impact of King vs. Burwell on people receiving health insurance subsidies, what about the impact on people not receiving subsidies? Because that’s most of us, as the Heritage Foundation points out. The graphic to the right, which looks specifically at the potential impact of King vs. Burwell on North Dakota, makes two points.
First, only a small percentage of North Dakotans with health insurance policies are receiving federal subsidies. Second, insurance plans would likely be cheaper if the Supreme Court ruling ends up exempting policyholders from costly Obamacare mandates.
Does it really make any sense to lock the majority of North Dakotans – and Americans, for that matter – who aren’t receiving subsidies into higher health insurance premiums in order to save subsidies for a small minority who do receive them?
I understand that, politically, Republicans don’t want to be perceived as cold hearted. You can bet that the media belabor sad anecdotes of Americans who lost their health insurance subsidies should the Supreme Court strike them down, and you can bet that those getting the blame will be Republicans.
But that seems like a sorry excuse for bad policy that hurts rather than helps most people.