Supreme Court Hears Obamacare Challenge But Outcome Impossible to Predict

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After hearing arguments for about 90 minutes, the U.S. Supreme Court gave little indication Wednesday about how it plans to rule in the latest challenge to Obamacare.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who cast the crucial vote in 2012 to save the health care reform law, didn't pepper government lawyers with questions this time. A possible swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, appeared to find constitutional problems with the case against Obamacare, but didn't fully tip his hand one way or the other.

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A loss by the federal government could deal a crippling blow to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act — a key domestic policy that was passed into law in 2010. Ultimately, health insurance for some 8 million people is at stake, and the government argues that they won’t be able to afford any insurance if the program doesn't exist in its current form.

This latest challenge stems from King v. Burwell, and centers around whether the federal government is violating the act by offering subsidies to lower- and middle-income health care enrollees who live in states that have not set up their own health care marketplace programs, or "exchanges." Only 16 states have exchanges up and running, while the remaining 34 rely on the federal exchange.

The law says that the subsidies can only be made available to people living where exchanges have been "established by the state."

The Supreme Court is expected to vote on the case Friday, although the results of the ruling may not be made public until June, when the court wraps up the current session.


— Pete Williams and Erik Ortiz