Former HHS Secretary Sebelius says health law strengthened with latest Supreme Court decision

ASPEN, Colo. — The Supreme Court decision on Thursday that allows insurance subsidies to continue flowing through the federal exchange was the “strongest possible” ruling for ensuring Obamacare survives into the future, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Sebelius, who oversaw Obamacare’s passage and rocky implementation, told the NewsHour that the the decision will strengthen the law against leadership changes in the future.

SEBELIUS: The Chevron precedent (Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.) would have meant that the Court could have said, ‘We deferred to the IRS, the IRS determined that all marketplaces should have subsidies, and we defer to the agency.’ If that had been the basis for the decision, the next administration, with a different head of IRS, could have made a different interpretation, and could have reversed that, saying, ‘Yes, in the Obama administration, the IRS ruled this way, but we ruled differently.’ But they didn’t use agency deference as the rationale. They used the way the law was written. So they found that the basis of the law meant that all exchanges should be eligible for subsidies. It could have been a bit more tenuous. If the Chevron precedent had been used, it could have been overturned in the future. This is now a ruling on the law itself. So absent repeal, it stands.

NEWSHOUR: How are you personally feeling about the decision?

SEBELIUS: You know, a lot of people always talk about what this says to the president, or how I feel. And we’ve been the lucky ones. I’ve always had affordable health care. But I get stopped on the street every day. I get stopped in the grocery store. I get stopped on an airplane. And people immediately tell me their story about their mother, their kid, themselves, and say, ‘This has changed my life. I can do things.’ There is a wonderful diner now open in Lawrence, Kan. — the Ladybird Diner. Meg Heriford is the head of it. When she opened her diner, and I was there eating her fabulous pies for the first time, she said, ‘I could only do this because of the Affordable Care Act. I have a preexisting health condition. I could not leave my job because I would never be insured. Having this law pass meant that I could fulfill my lifetime dream and open a diner.’ It’s wildly popular. She’s very happy. But I think that story is repeated now 10 million times. And it’s really fabulous.

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