If You Thought the Legal Challenges to the Affordable Care Act Were Over, You'd Be Wrong

PHOTO: Ronald Brock moves his anti-Obamacare sign as protestors, press, and passersby wait for decisions in the final days of the Supreme Courts term in Washington, D.C. on June 25, 2014.J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
Ronald Brock moves his anti-Obamacare sign as protestors, press, and passersby wait for decisions in the final days of the Supreme Court's term in Washington, D.C. on June 25, 2014.

You thought the battles over Obamacare were over after the nail-biting 2012 decision by the Supreme Court upholding a core provision of the law, right? Wrong.

In fact, the justices are meeting behind closed doors Friday to discuss a different challenge to the law that could, ultimately, be fatal to the future of the Affordable Care Act.

This challenge targets tax subsidies granted to those who seek to obtain insurance from the American Health Benefit Exchanges, often referred to simply as exchanges. The ACA grants the credits to qualifying individuals in order to defray the cost of insurance.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges for themselves, while 34 states have opted to allow the Federal government to do so. According to the government, some 7.3 million people have obtained insurance through the exchanges.

But challengers of the law say its text grants subsidies only for those on the state exchanges, not the federal exchanges. They say lawmakers thought that every state would establish exchanges, and in fact only 16 did.

Here’s the relevant paragraph in their brief to the Supreme Court:

In its briefs, the Obama administration scoffs at the challenge, saying there is no way Congress would have intended such an “absurd” result. Supporters of the law acknowledge, however, if this battle is lost it's unlikely the rest of the law could survive.

There are similar cases percolating in the lower courts, and it's likely the Supreme Court will hold off for now and only step in after those courts have ruled. But supporters of the health care law are worried that two years after the Supreme Court barely upheld the law, this challenge might be the final blow.