By ZIVA BRANSTETTER
For Julie Alexander, $8.10 per month bought a lot of piece of mind.
That’s what she had to pay this year for a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act, after subsidies provided by the law. The “catastrophic” plan is just designed to cover situations that could otherwise leave Alexander, a 51-year-old real estate agent, in medical bankruptcy.
“I am healthy, I never have to go to the doctor, but God forbid I was in a car accident or something like that. I would have no way of paying.”
Alexander was among millions of newly insured Americans watching the Supreme Court closely this week as it was set to rule on a challenge to the controversial federal health-care law. The court’s vote affirming the law 6-3 was a relief for Alexander, who spent almost five years without health insurance after a divorce left her unable to afford it.
“I’m excited about the Supreme Court decision and I think they decided this the right way. Undoing Obamacare would throw millions of people, it would just disrupt their lives … because there’s nothing else to take its place.”
Not normally a Supreme Court watcher, Alexander has been paying close attention to the court’s announcements as its final opinions are issued.
“I think anybody who is on the exchange was paying attention to this ruling because we all understand how it has affected our lives. I have friends with pre-existing conditions who, they may not be supporters of Obama, but they sure like their Obamacare.”
Had it gone the other way Thursday, the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell could have added as many as 150,000 people to the already high number of uninsured Oklahomans.
That forecast came from Leavitt Partners, the consulting company hired by the state in 2013 to examine the impact of the healthcare law on Oklahoma. While the opinion essentially upholds the Affordable Care Act, it has done little to quell the divisions in Oklahoma over the federal health-care law.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed the first lawsuit challenging the same part of the law at issue in Thursday’s case. A clause in the law refers to subsidies being available only to people who buy health insurance on an exchange (or website) “established by the state.”
SCOTUS blog posted this explanation of the issue:
“To ensure that everyone can afford the health insurance that they are now required to buy, the ACA also provides for subsidies for people who buy their health insurance through an exchange. But one provision of the ACA indicates that subsidies are only available if you purchase your health insurance on an exchange ‘established by the State.’
“The plaintiffs in this case argue that subsidies are therefore not available if you are one of the roughly seven million people who buy their health insurance on an exchange established by the federal government, because the federal government is not a ‘State.’”
Those who defended the law argued that the clear legislative intent was to provide insurance subsidies for those who qualified on any exchange, state or federal. They also argued that overturning the law would throw the nation’s health-care system into chaos because it could effectively end the law.
Two recent studies have found that more than 16 million Americans have obtained health insurance because of the law through a variety of sources.
Not surprisingly, Pruitt and Gov. Mary Fallin were unhappy with the decision and vowed to continue their fight against what they view as federal encroachment.
“It’s disappointing the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Obama administration’s executive rewriting of the Affordable Care Act by ruling on the context of the statute rather than the plain language of the law,” Pruitt said in a statement emailed to reporters.
“The court acknowledged that the challengers’ arguments were strong, but focused instead on the outcome of their opinion. There’s no doubt the rule of law took a hit today, but I won’t be deterred from continuing to fight for the rule of law and our founding principles.”
Pruitt told Fox Business channel it was “a results-oriented opinion” by the Court.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute called the decision “a victory for tens of thousands of Oklahomans and millions of Americans.”
“The Affordable Care Act’s subsidies are helping more than 87,000 Oklahomans purchase affordable health coverage and making Oklahoma a stronger, healthier state,” said the organization, which bills itself as a nonpartisan think tank.
“It is time for Oklahoma lawmakers to move past fruitless obstruction of the law and shift that energy into making sure that it succeeds in providing access to affordable coverage to as many Oklahomans as possible.”
Judging from Gov. Mary Fallin’s statement, that shift in attitude toward the law doesn’t appear likely.
Fallin has rejected a federal offer to expand Medicaid funding, which means 150,000 Oklahomans remain in a coverage gap. People who fall into that group are too poor to qualify for the federal subsidies yet unable to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today in King v. Burwell means that taxpayers will be, for the time being, stuck with a law that is deeply flawed, disruptive to the lives of American families and a destructive force in our economy,” Fallin said in a written statement released by her office.
“As I and others have argued for years, states need flexibility to pursue their own health care solutions tailored to the needs of their constituents; Obamacare does the opposite by pursuing one-size-fits-all policies.”
Her statement says regardless of the ruling, “the status quo cannot be allowed to stand.”
“Now, more than ever, the American people need Congress to use its powers to move the country towards constructive, market-oriented solutions that empower families, provide flexibility to states, improve health and reduce the cost of health care.”
Alexander said she expects challenges to the law to continue but views the court’s action “as a firm vote that this is making a difference in this country and more people are on health insurance because of it.”