Editorial: Consider context in Obamacare Supreme Court challenge


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In the latest attempt to unravel the Affordable Care Act, King v. Burwell has the U.S. Supreme Court scrambling to make a legal decision with enormous implications. What is being challenged is key phrase in the bill that would leave 34 states without the ability to apply for needed federal subsidies to offer affordable health-care coverage: “established by the state.”

The act’s draft passed by Congress included a vision that all states would establish their own health markets; the language used in the bill includes that the tax credits could only be applied to those states that set up these agencies.

The problem: Only 16 states actually set up their own health markets to comply with the health law. If this challenge to the law is upheld, 34 states, including Iowa, would lose their ability to receive the federal credits needed to supply affordable insurance to those who need it.

The Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank, estimates that up to 8 million Americans would be affected if the court rules against the act. The report also predicts that as many as 30,000 Iowans would be unable to afford insurance if the law is interpreted differently under this new ruling.

Each and every word is subject to interpretation in legal documents. The Supreme Court has a duty to serve the United States, and that includes not only whether a law is within the scope of the Constitution but also specifically how a law is implemented.

Every law judged by the highest court in the country should be held to the highest of standards. U.S. citizens deserve appointed justices who have each reviewed every presented bill line-by-line to interpret federal laws.

As it applies to King v. Burwell’s challenge to the health law, the court has a substantial responsibility to give an answer to the disputed language as it applies to subsidies given to states. Wording is central to legislation, and a mere four words bound together in a health-care bill with over 900 pages warrants a look with a broadened lens, seen from an expansive view of the true intention of the law.

Every bill that is sent to Senate committees goes through a rigorous process of construction and dissection, often resulting in a final version that is a mere shell of what it was previous to submission. Pages, sections, and sometimes words are looked at with a magnifying glass and thrown out or added to the bill in order for it to be passed.

The disputed language in this bill occurred because of this very process. In the early version of the bill in 2009, it stated that subsidies would be granted only to those in states with their own exchanges because in that draft, no federal exchange system was even mentioned. As the health-care bill was drafted, cut, and rewritten in Senate, later versions of the bill included the vision we know now as a federally operated marketplace.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes the language used in the bill wasn’t intended to reject subsidies to states. Assuming the high court investigates the paper trail of how and why the health law was constructed from beginning to end, this case will not be upheld when it is decided this summer, saving millions from losing health insurance.

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