White House says health care tax credits to continue for now

07/22/2014 2:26 PM

07/22/2014 4:28 PM

President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to downplay dueling court rulings over the validity of a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans on Capitol Hill seized on the latest news as another reason the federal health care law should be scrapped.

Two appeals courts reached different conclusions on whether policyholders may use tax credits to buy coverage in the 36 states that use the federal health insurance marketplace.

The Obama administration quickly announced that consumers would keep getting the financial assistance for their premiums as it reviews the rulings.

“Right now there are millions of Americans all across the country who are receiving tax credits from the federal government as a result of the Affordable Care Act that is making health care more affordable for them,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “And while this ruling is interesting to legal theorists, it has no practical impact on their tax credits right now.”

On Capitol Hill, Republicans focused almost solely on the ruling against the tax credits by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, pushing once again for the law dubbed Obamacare to be repealed.

“For months, people all across this country have seen firsthand the flawed and ineffective implementation of Obamacare: in their skyrocketing premiums, lost coverage, limited access and regulatory inefficiencies,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the chair of the House of Representatives Republican Conference. “It’s time to listen to the American people, enact real health care reforms and start over. This law does not work.”

Tuesday’s rulings may have led to some uncertainty in the law and provided additional ammunition for Republicans, but the chance of repeal or even significant changes is nonexistent while Democrats control the Senate.

A Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without Republican support in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law two years later. The debate over the measure has continued nonetheless.

Even before the conflicting court decisions, Republicans cited the repeated delays in implementation as reason enough to get rid of the law.

House Republicans recently announced that they’d sue Obama, accusing him of exceeding his authority by delaying until 2015 the so-called employer mandate, which requires companies with 50 or more workers to offer health insurance or face fines.

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that the Republican-controlled House would proceed next week to authorize the lawsuit “to uphold the rule of law and protect our Constitution.”

“President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed,” said Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “The American people recognize that Obamacare is hurting our economy and making it harder for small businesses to hire, and that’s why Republicans remain committed to repealing the law and replacing it with solutions that will lower health care costs and protect American jobs.”

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded that the administration had stretched the law too far in extending the subsidies through the HealthCare.gov website for people in states that use the federal exchange.

But in a unanimous decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said the extension of the tax credits in a rule by the Internal Revenue Service is a “permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the D.C. court decision was consistent with the committee’s findings that the IRS and the Treasury Department didn’t conduct a thorough analysis of the statute or its legislative history and intent before “cobbling an ad hoc legal rationale for a key provision of the president’s health care law.”

Many Democratic lawmakers were largely silent on the court rulings Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement on health care but, not surprisingly, chose only to concentrate on the favorable Richmond ruling, which she said affirmed the intent of the law to make quality, affordable health insurance available to every American.

“We are confident that as these cases advance, the plaintiffs’ obviously false interpretation of the law will be exposed as the baseless and desperate Republican distraction that it is,” she wrote.

The Justice Department will seek a hearing from the full 11-member appeals court in D.C.

Earnest said the administration was confident in its legal case.

“There’s a lot of high-minded case law that’s applied here,” he said. “There’s also an element of common sense that should be applied as well, which is that you don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their health care costs, regardless of whether it was state officials or federal officials who were running the marketplace.”

David Lightman contributed to this article.

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