Today in an unprecedented movie, the Supreme Court agreed to hear King vs Burwell, which challenges how far the federal government can extend its program of subsidies to buyers of health insurance. At issue is whether the program of tax credits applies only in the consumer marketplaces set up by sixteen states, and not at federally operated sites in thirty-four states. Rather than waiting til Monday, they announced it after their closed Friday conference. By adding the case to its decision docket at this point, without waiting for further action in lower federal courts, as the Obama administration had asked, the Court ensured that it would rule on the case during the current Term. If it decides to limit the subsidies to the state-run “exchanges,” it is widely understood that that outcome would crash the ACA’s carefully balanced economic arrangements. The case will be heard by the first week in March.
The Fourth Circuit’s decision upholding an IRS rule extending tax credits to federally established exchanges was challenge. The government had asked the Court to take a pass because there’s no split in the circuit courts over whether the IRS rule is valid. At least four justices—it only takes four to grant certiorari—voted to take the case anyhow.
This comes at the heels of the Sixth Circuit appeals court upholding bans on gay marriage in four states, clearly increasing the prospect that the Justices will now take on one or more appeals — perhaps even in time for decision in the current Term. Already, lawyers representing some of the same-sex couples involved have promised a swift appeal to the Supreme Court.
Read more about the Obamacare debate here
Picture courtesy of Mark Fischer.