Oral arguments begin today in King v. Burwell, a case which pits partisan opponents of the health care law against millions of Americans benefitting from it. A ruling against the Affordable Care Act in this case would strip premium tax credits from people who live in states like Pennsylvania, where lawmakers declined the opportunity to establish a state-based marketplace. Invalidating tax credits for roughly 9 million Americans would have immediate and severe consequences, destabilizing insurance markets across the country and destroying the gains in coverage made possible by the ACA in the past two years.
More than 422,000 Pennsylvanians are currently enrolled in private health plans through Healthcare.gov; 81% of them received financial help via the law’s tax credits to do so. A ruling against the ACA in King v. Burwell would force these newly-enrolled Pennsylvanians to come up with an extra $200 a month to keep their coverage (the average annual tax credit per enrollee in Pennsylvania is $2,610). That’s not a viable option for these folks, nearly all of whom have low or moderate incomes. Estimates show that without financial help, 329,000 Pennsylvanians would lose coverage.
Karen Bernard and her husband Bill Pepmeyer, would be among those losing coverage if the Supreme Court sides with opponents of the ACA. Karen and Bill enrolled in the Marketplace at the start of the first open enrollment period and can’t afford to lose their coverage. Karen works part-time at a grocery store; until recently, Bill ran his own small business. Bill was forced to give that up to focus on his health after being diagnosed with leukemia. Karen and Bill, like so many others, are worried about what the Supreme Court will do. Karen said: “My husband has cancer. He had to sell his small business and now he receives disability checks. I work but do not make much. Without the Affordable Care Act we cannot afford health care. Period.”
There is no legal basis for the Supreme Court to take health insurance away from Karen and Bill, and 9 million others. The clear intent of Congress in crafting the Affordable Care Act was to make coverage affordable for all Americans, no matter where they live. Advocates are hopeful that the Supreme Court will take into account the context and intent of the law and uphold the ACA once more.
“The consequences of this case cannot be overstated: A ruling against the ACA would be devastating to millions of Americans and wreak havoc on our health care system. If they take this away from people the tears of joy we’ve come to see in the eyes of those we’ve helped get covered after years of being denied or priced out of the market will once again turn to tears of frustration, anxiety and fear. Said Antoinette Kraus, Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.”