Challengers of a key provision of the Obama healthcare law Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and decide quickly whether people who buy their health insurance on state exchanges qualify for a federal subsidy.
Two federal courts reached opposite conclusions on that issue last week. On Thursday, the challengers who lost asked the Supreme Court to step in.
"Millions of people have no idea if they may rely on the IRS’s promise to subsidize their health coverage, or if that money will be clawed back. Employers in 36 states have no idea if they will be penalized under the ACA’s employer mandate, or are effectively exempt from it," wrote Michael Carvin, the Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the challengers, in a petition filed with the court.
"Insurers have no idea if their customers will pay for health coverage in which they enrolled, or if large numbers will default. And the Treasury has no idea if billions of dollars being spent each month were authorized by Congress, or if these expenditures are illegal."
The Obamacare law clearly says insurance bought through the state exchanges qualifies for the federal subsidy. But the law is ambiguous about whether the subsidies are also available for insurance bought on the federal exchange.
A federal appeals court in Washington said the answer is no. But another federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, said yes.
The Justice Department said last week it would ask the full court of appeals in Washington to review the ruling that went against the administration. Only 14 states now have health exchanges up and running. Nearly five-million low-income Americans got their insurance on the federal exchange.
- Pete Williams
First published July 31 2014, 2:06 PM
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He has been covering the Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court since March 1993. Williams was also a key reporter on the Microsoft anti-trust trial and Judge Jackson's decision.
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Prior to joining NBC, Williams served as a press official on Capitol Hill for many years. In 1986 he joined the Washington, D.C. staff of then Congressman Dick Cheney as press secretary and a legislative assistant. In 1989, when Cheney was named Assistant Secretary of Defense, Williams was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. While in that position, Williams was named Government Communicator of the Year in 1991 by the National Association of Government Communicators.
A native of Casper, Wyo. and a 1974 graduate of Stanford University, Williams was a reporter and news director at KTWO-TV and Radio in Casper from 1974 to 1985. Working with the Radio-Television News Directors Association, for which he served as a member of its board of directors, he successfully lobbied the Wyoming Supreme Court to permit broadcast coverage of its proceedings and twice sued Wyoming judges over pre-trial exclusion of reporters from the courtroom. For these efforts, he received a First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.