LaDawna Howard / CC BY 2.0

In a major victory for the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court has voted to uphold the nationwide availability of tax subsidies crucial to the Affordable Care Act.

The federal subsidies help nearly 6.4 million people pay for their health care coverage, and Thursday’s 6-3 ruling means that people in all 50 states may benefit from subsidies, not just those who bought insurance through a state exchange.

The decision concludes the second major challenge to the health care law since its passage.

From The New York Times:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion in the 6-to-3 decision. The court’s three most conservative members — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented. The case concerned a central part of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The law created marketplaces, known as exchanges, to allow people who lack insurance to shop for individual health plans.

Some states set up their own exchanges, but about three dozen allowed the federal government to step in to run them. Across the nation, about 85 percent of customers using the exchanges qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage, based on their income.

The question in the case, King v. Burwell, No. 14-114, was what to make of a phrase in the law that seems to say the subsidies are available only to people buying insurance on “an exchange established by the state.”

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan.

“In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” he added. “If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

President Obama, who recently said the court should never have agreed to hear the case, hailed the ruling, which will cement one of his key achievements.

“In America health care is not a privilege for a few but a right for all,’’ President Obama said in the Rose Garden after the Supreme Court decision. The Affordable Care Act, he said, “is here to stay.’’

As it stands, about 10 million people have purchased insurance from state or federal marketplaces.

Read more here.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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