July 23, 2014

Federal Appeal Courts Issue Conflicting Rulings On Legality Of ACA Subsidies.

The court rulings on the legality of key ACA subsidies are featured on the front pages of major US newspapers this morning, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal – all of which also run editorials on the issue. However, the story generated only a 30-second blurb on the network newscasts, where the crises in Ukraine and Gaza continued to receive the brunt of the coverage. On cable, Fox News commentators used the rulings to train their fire on the ACA and on the President himself, while MSNBC and CNN had little to say about the controversy and largely focused their news and commentary shows on foreign policy. Overall, coverage of the rulings highlights the ongoing partisan split over the President’s healthcare reform law, and predicts the issue will be settled – as it was in 2012 – by the Supreme Court.
As the only network news broadcast reporting the news, ABC World News (7/22, story 6, 0:30, Sawyer) referred to “a trampoline of a day for Obamacare in court,” as the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia “ruled that only Americans in states with their own exchanges for insurance can get financial subsidies,” while “hours later,” the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals “issued the opposite ruling, saying Obamacare can proceed as planned.” Ultimately, notes Bloomberg News(7/22, Zajac, Dorning, Allen), “if the first decision stands, it could damage Obama’s legacy as a policy maker and render his party’s candidates more vulnerable to Republican attacks in November’s midterm election.” Moreover, “the ruling also threatens to gut the law’s basic premise – to provide affordable insurance for Americans who don’t have it.” The Hill(7/23, Viebeck) similarly reports that “a ruling against the administration would demolish ObamaCare’s structure.”
The AP(7/23), however, cautions that may not necessarily be the case: The DC case “was decided by a three-judge panel,” and the Administration “will ask the full 11-member appeals court to hear the case.” Of the 11 judges in the full court, seven were appointed by Democratic presidents, and if they come out “in favor of the administration, the prospect of Supreme Court involvement would be greatly diminished.” And on its front page, USA Today(7/23, A1, Wolf) adds, “even if the full court rules against the law, a likely split among appeals courts could force the Supreme Court to take up the case. Two years ago, the justices upheld the Affordable Care Act by a 5-4 margin.”
Providing background, the Christian Science Monitor(7/23, Kiefer) explains the issue in contention is that the ACA, as drafted, “specifically covers subsidies for the state exchanges, but not a word is said about subsidies for the federal exchange.” Upon “realizing this oversight,” the IRS “issued a rule allowing subsidies for everyone covered by the act, regardless of whether they are in state exchanges or the federal exchange.” The Washington Times(7/23, Howell) explains that the DC court “ruled the administration used” the IRS rule “to stretch the meaning of the” law, “which said financial aid to low- and middle-income people should only flow to exchanges ‘established by the State.’” The Times adds that “if that means only state-run exchanges, it would cut off subsidies to two-thirds of the nation” by invalidating “the IRS rule that ensured subsidies flowed to every state.” The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit “upheld the administration’s interpretation of where subsidies may flow,” reasoning that “Obamacare’s language was ambiguous and that the IRS rule was ‘a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.’”
The Daily Caller(7/22, Hurtubise) says that “a whopping 36 states decided building an exchange wasn’t worth it,” and that would have made “their customers…ineligible for premium subsidies.” It was then, according to the Caller, that the IRS “issued its own belated rule that subsidies would also apply to exchanges set up by the federal government.” According to the account on the front page of the New York Times(7/22, A1, Pear, Subscription Publication), Administration officials say that argument is “absurd,” and that “the overriding purpose of the Affordable Care Act, they said, was to ensure access to health care for nearly all Americans, wherever they live.” Bloomberg News(7/22, Harris, Zajac) quotes Walter Dellinger, former solicitor general during the Clinton Administration, as saying, “The Congress that passed the Affordable Care Act could not have intended [an] utterly absurd result, much less unambiguously required it.”
On its front page, the Washington Post(7/22, A1, Somashekhar, Goldstein) reports “conservatives have spent years laying the groundwork for the challenge, which they viewed as their last, best chance at hollowing out the federal program.” The Post notes that the DC Circuit panel “was made up of two Republican and one Democratic appointee,” while the Fourth Circuit panel “was comprised of two Democratic appointees and one judge…who was nominated by a Bill Clinton and then renominated by George W. Bush.”
Under the headline “Democrats Still Haven’t Learned Obamacare Lesson,” Politico(7/23, Nather, Haberkorn) reports, “Memo to Democrats: This is what happens when you pass a law where you can’t fix simple drafting errors.” Yesterday’s “conflicting rulings were another wake-up call for Democrats about the fragility of the health care law – and a reminder that whenever they think a lawsuit is no threat to the law, it’s probably a threat to the law.” Adds Politico, “It’s all because of what most Democrats insist is a drafting error in the law, but it’s kind of a big one.”
On its front page, the Los Angeles Times(7/23, A1, Savage) also notes “conservative legal groups have argued ever since that ‘exchange established by the state’ does not include the federal exchange,” and “that reading of the law would block insurance subsidies in two-thirds of the nation.” The Huffington Post(7/22, Grim) puts it differently, reporting that “two Republican judges on the DC Circuit Court have ruled that the equivalent of a typo is enough to strip health care subsidies from up to 5 million people.”
Effect Of Rulings Vary By State. In addition to national print and web outlets, dozens of regional sources covered Tuesday’s dueling court rulings, many of them offering a local-spin on the news.
For example, several Oregon papers offer conflicting reports as to what the case means for subsidies offered by its exchange, Cover Oregon. The Bend (OR) Bulletin(7/23, Bannow) and the AP(7/23) say subsidies won’t be affected, while The Oregonian(7/23, Budnick) says the first ruling puts the subsidies in a “legal gray area,” and a later article from The Oregonian(7/23, Budnick) says the cases “leave experts split” on the implications.
The Boston Globe(7/23, Freyer) reports that ACA customers in Massachusetts are “unlikely to be affected,” while the Charleston (WV) Gazette(7/23, Nuzum) says West Virginia consumers’ subsidies are now “in peril.”

Original Article can be found at the