In brief: My regular spot with Hal Sparks on WCPT Radio, Chicago!
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Enhanced audio: HSRP 03/07/15 — #DontTakeMyCare, Jerks
Hal and I were at our wonky best, discussing the possible outcomes and affects of King v. Burwell, the latest attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act. The plaintiffs are relying on what amounts to a typo in the language — “established by the State” — that describes the subsidies to insurance exchanges. It’s unlikely that it’ll be entirely struck down, but could be “Voting Rights Act” – ified with the “typo” clause slashed and returned to this Congress for a fix — right as a national election is getting started.
I’m the poster child for the ACA, but I’m protected in one of the 14 states (California) that created its own exchange. As for residents of the other 36 states — my brother, an Illinois resident, included, they’ll have to wait until June to find out if their subsidies vanish. People like my brother — who had a kidney transplant in college — who can’t afford to shoulder the premium payments on their own or would have to go back to an employer-based, stuck-in-your-job system, would be the ones who suffer. The groups most affected? Say it with me: marginalized groups like people of color, LGBTQ people (who STILL have to fight for healthcare availability even with the ACA), low-income people (that’s me raising my hand), rural residents who would have to drive to sliding scale clinics. You know, the politically inconvenient folks.
We boiled the ACA down to two words that conservatives should love: individual choice. And Hal posits that Obamacare is filling a gap that used to be part of unions: providing some choice, mobility and stability toward the end of working years before qualifying for programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
These are the parts of Jessica’s article to keep in mind when debating your right-wing friends and neighbors (emphasis mine):
Not so, argues the Obama administration. In its brief defending the federal subsidies under the ACA, the administration explains how the only way the challengers win is if the Court ignores the entire rest of the statute. Rather than cut off those 36 states that have failed to establish their own exchanges, which would leave residents either without insurance coverage or stuck with coverage they cannot afford, the ACA mandates that the federal government step in with its own exchange for purchasing insurance.
It’s nonsensical, the administration points out, to claim that Congress built a law designed to insure as many people as possible only to restrict subsidies based on where an individual happens to live. Furthermore, the statute defines who qualifies for a tax credit based on income level, not their state residency. If Congress intended to limit the availability of insurance subsidies based on whether a state established its own exchange, the administration maintains, surely the text would reflect that limitation throughout.
Progressives don’t often look to Chief Justice Roberts to champion their causes, but this time maybe they should. During his time as chief justice, Roberts has proven himself to be both a tremendously skilled litigator and a savvy politician, which is why it is reasonable to see him ruling for the administration in this case. Of the myriad legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act so far, including to the individual mandate and the birth control benefit, King is the most obviously formulated, partisan attack because it essentially cribs from the Cato Institute’s arguments. This may make it a perfect fit for Justice Antonin Scalia, but not so much for Roberts, who must manage the Court’s already shaky reputation for partisanship.
Furthermore, the reality is the business community, despite what Republicans argue, largely supports the ACA. A ruling against the administration threatens to throw the insurance market into chaos, which is ultimately bad for business. And it’s difficult to imagine the Roberts Court issuing a decision that would be bad for business.
This is the impact and more likely danger than a ruling outright in favor of the plaintiffs:
Of course, there is always the risk that the partisan temptation will be too great, and the conservative majority will do to the ACA what it did to the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, sending it back to Congress to “fix.” Like we’ve seen in the fight for voting rights, that’s a decision that would be disastrous on numerous fronts. Not only would millions of Americans find themselves without assistance paying for health insurance—they’d be left looking to Republicans in Congress for an answer during a presidential election year. And true to form, Republicans admit they have no plan to help those people, which means a Congressional “fix” is a euphemism for sending the ACA away to wither and die. That possibility has got to be a tempting grab for Roberts, who reportedly switched his vote to support the administration during the first health-care challenge after initially siding with conservatives to strike the individual mandate.
This disaster scenario would most heavily affect women of color. In places like Texas, which are already in the midst of a human rights crisis thanks to Republicans playing politics with health care, a decision gutting the ACA subsidies would affect more than a million women, 60 percent of them Latina. Just as it is difficult to imagine the Roberts Court issuing a ruling that would be bad for business, it is almost as difficult to imagine the Roberts Court issuing a decision that is good for women of color.
Links to on-air references:
“The Fate of the Affordable Care Act Rests in John Roberts’ Hands—Again” by Jessica Mason Pieklo at RH Reality Check
Note:: If you haven’t yet, please check out my new ”#GetWell2015 series! I’m detailing all the uncomfortable messiness of what it takes to get well in this country. I’m personally navigating insurance (still a thing despite ACA), talking mental health and poverty stigma, and discussing the obstacles to care.
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You can hear The Hal Sparks Radio Program live Saturdays from 12-2pm EST on WCPT.