Handed down within hours of each other Tuesday, two opposing court decisions on subsidies to low- to middle-income families through a federal insurance exchange further divided opinions on the legitimacy of Obamacare.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 against the ability of the IRS to provide subsidies to qualifying families through the federal insurance exchange. Two hours later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously made the opposite ruling — that subsidies should be available to qualifying individuals through both federal and state exchanges.
According to Jennifer Patterson, the health legal counsel for the New Hampshire Insurance Department, if the D.C. Circuit decision stands, New Hampshire families would eventually lose access to their subsidies through the federal exchange.
However, Patterson said the D.C. decision is “by no means the last word on this issue” and the federal government “appears” to be continuing to administer the federal subsidies.
“While we will read today’s decisions and continue to follow the progress of these cases closely, nothing has changed for New Hampshire consumers receiving subsidies through the Marketplace,” Patterson said.
Both rulings deal with one of the more ambiguous, and argued over, sections in the Affordable Care Act.
This section says a state can either offer residents insurance through their own state-run exchange or use the federal insurance exchange.
Thirty-six states opted out of building their own state-run insurance exchanges, including New Hampshire.
According to the New York Times, under the first ruling, some 4.5 million low- to middle-income residents who qualified for subsidized insurance through the federal exchange — because their state opted out of its own exchange — would no longer be able to receive tax credit subsidies through the IRS.
However, under the second ruling, these 4.5 million residents would continue to receive that insurance under Obamacare.
It is unclear whether any more rulings will be made on this provision or exactly which ruling is the law of the land.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte continues to stand by her opinion that Obamacare should be repealed and fixed.
“Today’s court rulings reflect the fact that the law was poorly written and rammed through Congress — and it’s fundamentally flawed as a result,” the Republican said in a statement.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said she disagreed with the D.C. Circuit decision and that she believes the intent of Obamacare is to make subsidies available to residents in both state and federal exchanges.
She also stressed that both decisions have changed nothing for New Hampshire residents.
“For now, people should be assured that nothing has changed with their premium tax credits; they continue to be available and will be in the foreseeable future,” Shaheen said in a statement.
William Hinkle, press secretary for Gov. Maggie Hassan, said the governor agrees with Shaheen on the specific intent of the ACA to provide subsidy coverage through state and federal exchanges and that the D.C. Circuit decision will not have “near-term effects” on New Hampshire families.
“The governor is glad that the federal government is appealing the D.C. Circuit’s decision and that the 4th Circuit Court unanimously ruled today that the subsidies on all types of exchanges are allowed,” Hinkle said in a statement on Tuesday. “She looks forward to this matter being resolved in favor of affordable, quality care for our families.”