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SCOTUS Upholds Healthcare Subsidies for Millions of Americans

July 2, 2015

By Louise F. Pongracz

On June 24, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in King v. Burwell, in which it considered whether a small ambiguity in the language of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) meant that only citizens in states that had established their own healthcare Marketplaces or Exchanges were eligible for financial assistance in purchasing insurance coverage. A vote upholding this position would have stripped the vital subsidies from the millions of individuals who live in states in which the federal government, not the state, had established the Marketplace.

After looking at the entire Act and its interrelated provisions, the Court concluded that Congress clearly had intended that citizens in every state who meet the financial need test are entitled to financial help with which to purchase Marketplace insurance coverage, regardless of whether the state or the federal government established that particular Marketplace. 

Those of us in the labor community, probably more than most Americans, understand how a language error could occur: “It was really late and we’d been bargaining ‘round the clock for a week.” “We still had so many issues on the table and midnight was coming fast.” “The negotiating committee had split up to take on different issues and so everybody didn’t get to read every section.” Sound familiar? It will to anyone who has been involved in labor negotiations. When disagreements later arise over negotiated language, we understand that the most reasonable resolution is to submit the dispute to an arbitrator who looks at the entire agreement, bargaining history, and past practice to determine what the parties actually had intended. That is essentially what the U.S. Supreme Court did here, in King v. Burwell – read the ACA in its entirety to determine the intent behind the language over which the parties disagreed.

This decision puts to rest just one disagreement over the ACA. Willig, Williams & Davidson will continue to work with all of our clients to implement the complex web of statute, regulations, guidance and notices that make up the Affordable Care Act.

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