WASHINGTON — The latest and possibly the last serious effort to cripple Obamacare through the courts has just failed.
On Thursday, for the second time in three years, the Supreme Court rejected a major lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act — thereby preserving the largest expansion in health coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid half a century ago.
The stakes of the case, King v. Burwell, were enormous. Had the plaintiffs prevailed, millions of people who depend upon the Affordable Care Act for insurance would have lost financial assistance from the federal government. Without that money, most of them would have had to give up coverage altogether. And the loss of so many customers would have forced insurers to raise premiums, seriously disrupting state insurance markets.
But two of the court’s conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined the court’s four liberals in rejecting the lawsuit in a 6-3 decision. Roberts delivered the opinion for the majority. And the decision was a concise, stinging rebuke of the plaintiffs, who contended that Congress intended to write a law that would leave so many people without coverage, and cause such disarray.
«Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them,» Roberts wrote.
The decision is a major defeat for conservatives, who have been trying to wipe Obamacare off the books ever since its enactment in 2010. The sweeping health care reform law, a key component of President Barack Obama’s legacy, now appears to be secure at least through the 2016 elections.
«Today, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law, after a presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law, after multiple challenges to this law in front of the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,» Obama said.
Obama added that he hopes to continue improving the law, including expanding Medicaid in more Republican-run states. «What we are not going to do,» he added, «is unravel what is now woven into the fabric of America.»
The law’s fate beyond the 2016 election will depend on who becomes president next year — and whether Republicans in Congress are willing to keep fighting for repeal.
«Obamacare is fundamentally broken … today’s ruling doesn’t change that fact,» House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. «Republicans will continue to listen to American families and work to protect them from the consequences of Obamacare.»
The lawsuit, conceived by some of Obamacare’s most relentless conservative critics and promoted enthusiastically by leaders of the Republican Party, didn’t challenge the Affordable Care Act’sconstitutionality. Instead, this brief against the law focused on a single six-word phrase — «an exchange established by the state» — that was buried deep within the text. What this phrase really meant, supporters of the lawsuit argued, was that tax credits for buying insurance should only be available in those states where officials had decided to operate their own health insurance exchange marketplaces, rather than leaving that administrative work to the federal government.