More than 6 million Americans who stood to lose federal help in paying for health insurance got a break on Thursday when the Supreme Court upheld one of the most important provisions of Obamacare: the federal subsidies.
The Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the subsidies, one of the main provisions of so-called Obamacare.
That means people like Tony Teffeteller don’t have to worry about paying for their health insurance.
Teffeteller, who lives in Maryville, Tennessee, heard the news Thursday morning while at work at a staffing company that offers bare-bones health insurance designed to cover dire emergencies only.
“I was like, yay,” Teffeteller, 54, told NBC News. “Without the marketplace or Obamacare I would be up a creek.”
The challengers argued that the federal government could not legally pay subsidies to people buying health insurance in states that did not run their own health insurance exchanges.
“Without the marketplace or Obamacare I would be up a creek.”
Tennessee is one of the states that declined to set up a health insurance exchange for people to buy insurance, subsidized or otherwise, so Teffeteller bought his on the federal exchange. If the court had ruled in favor of the challenge, he would have lost that subsidy and says he could not have afforded the entire premium on his salary.
“It's the best insurance I've ever had,” he said.
He pays $99 a month, and the federal government pays the rest of the $250-a-month premium. It helps Teffeteller pay for a batch of prescriptions for his type-2 diabetes, as well as eye drops for glaucoma.
Without the subsidy, Teffeteller says he may have chosen to go without health insurance.
“I would have thought about it,” he said. “I am glad I don’t have to make that decision.”
Health policy experts say it’s patients like Teffeteller that Obamacare is designed to help. People who do not have comprehensive health insurance tend to skip tests, medications and checkups. Then they end up in emergency rooms and their care ends up costing more.
With chronic diseases such as diabetes, patients need regular checkups, medication and tests. Teffeteller needs daily insulin, and several lab tests a year to make sure his blood sugar is stable and that the diabetes isn’t damaging his organs. He says the tests cost $300 to $400 a pop and his employer’s insurance wouldn’t have covered the cost.
“We did dodge a bullet. In the short run if this had gone the other way, then millions of people would have lost health insurance,” said Tal Gross, a health policy expert at Columbia University’s school of public health.
“The American Medical Association (AMA) is relieved that today’s Supreme Court decision will allow millions of patients to continue accessing the health care they need and deserve,” added Dr. Steven Stack, president of the AMA.
“Physicians know that the uninsured live sicker and die younger so the AMA has been a leading voice in support of expanding health insurance access to ensure patients can get the care they require.”
“Millions of families across the country will breathe a big sigh of relief about today’s decision."
Experts estimate that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare, got health insurance to nearly 17 million Americans through the exchanges, expansion of Medicaid, and other ways.
“Millions of families across the country will breathe a big sigh of relief about today’s decision," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the health consumer group Families USA.
"They will now have the peace of mind knowing their health coverage will not be taken away, and they will continue to receive financial help to keep premiums affordable."
A survey published Thursday showed most Americans support the law’s federal subsidies.
But opponents of the law said they were not giving up.
"We are going to continue our efforts to do everything we can to put the American people back in charge of their health care and not the federal government," House Speaker John Boehner said.