Health Politics

Supreme Court Hears Crucial Affordable Care Act Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in King v. Burwell, a case that could threaten the ability of millions to access affordable health insurance, including over 4 million women who are currently enjoying insurance coverage.


In King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court will decide whether federal financial assistance under the Affordable Case Act (ACA) should be available to all eligible individuals, or only to those who live in states that have established their own state-based Health Insurance Marketplaces.

Under the ACA, the federal government provides financial help, in the form of tax credits, to middle- and low-income individuals to purchase health insurance through Health Insurance Marketplaces. Some states created their own marketplaces, but 34 states use federally-facilitated marketplaces where individuals and families can buy health insurance. The argument in this case centers on a small bit of language in more than 1,000-page law, that some have interpreted to mean that the federal government cannot give financial assistance to individuals and families in those 34 states.

The outcome of King could have potentially devastating effects for over 9 million people who could lose health insurance coverage if the Court determines that they are not eligible for tax credits. Without those credits, millions of people will no longer be able to afford their coverage, including over 4 million women, approximately one-third of whom are women of color, according to a new report released by Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“This is an invidious attack on the Affordable Care Act and on the millions of people who have finally been able to afford quality healthcare coverage,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “We can only hope that the Supreme Court sees through this desperate attempt to gut the ACA and protects the accessibility of life-saving health insurance coverage. For women especially, losing health coverage under the ACA would mean losing preventive care, maternity benefits, and annual well-woman visits, all essential components for women’s health.”

“Having health insurance coverage also shores up economic security for young people, women, and families who are eligible for the ACA tax credits,” continued Smeal. “In the absence of insurance coverage, these folks – already vulnerable – could be financially devastated by a medical emergency.”

The decision, however, does not only affect those who benefit from the financial assistance. If the Supreme Court dismantles tax credits in states using federally facilitated marketplaces, insurance rates for everyone in those states could potentially skyrocket. The success of the ACA is premised on three core components: (1) prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions; (2) requiring individuals to purchase insurance; and (3) making insurance affordable through subsidies, in the form of tax credits. If the tax credits are eliminated, millions of people – a good proportion of which are healthy young adults – will be unable to obtain insurance coverage. Having fewer people in the insurance pool will drive up costs, as will having a greater proportion of sicker people.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by late June.

Media Resources: Planned Parenthood Action Fund 3/3/2015

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