Supreme Court will consider new Affordable Care Act challenge

The Supreme Court announced it would take up a case on the tax subsidies of the Affordable Care Act that could have major implications for the health care law. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Review joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the details, as well as why the court might consider same-sex marriage despite deciding not to earlier in the term.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Supreme Court today announced that it would take up a controversial case that could have major implications for the health care law. And after the court had decided not to take up same-sex marriage, the hot-button issue could very well land before the nine justices after all because of a decision yesterday in a lower court.

    Here to explain more is Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal."

    Welcome back.

  • MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Always good to have you.

    So, Marcia, what prompted the justices to take up this challenge to the health care law, another one?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Well, usually, the court waits for disagreement in the lower federal appellate courts before it takes a case. That's one of the criteria for review. Technically, there is no division right now, but the court will also step in if the issue is of national importance or if it's an issue that could likely recur.

    And, certainly, there are other cases pending that are challenging this particular provision in the Affordable Care Act.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So what do you think prompted this? I mean, the assumption is that the four more conservative justices who were not on board with the 2012 ruling that upheld most of the Affordable Care Act were behind this. What's the thinking?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Well, we really don't know the votes, who voted how to take review of this particular case.

    We do know that you only need four votes, and the speculation is that, at least among whoever did vote, there were the four dissenters, and perhaps they wanted another shot at the Affordable Care Act.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What could this — this — what this is all about is the authorization for tax subsidies for low- and middle-income folks.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Yes. Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And it has to do with state — the state exchanges, and the question is whether the Obama administration truly have the authorization to set up the federal exchanges, to allow these subsidies under the federal exchange.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    The first challenge to the Affordable Care Act was a constitutional challenge, if you remember, to the individual requirement that you have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

    This is a very different type of challenge. This is going to involve interpretation of the language in a particular provision of the act, which says that subsidies can be paid to certain individuals if they buy their health insurance on — and this is — on exchanges — the exact language, exchanges established by the state.

    But the Internal Revenue Service issued a regulation saying those subsidies are available not only on state-created, but also federal-created exchanges. And what is, though, important here s that only 16 states have created their own insurance marketplaces. The federal government has filled the gap with 34 other exchanges. So roughly five million Americans have been able to purchase insurance on those exchanges because of these tax subsidies.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, clearly, this is one that's going to be watched very closely. And then the other question that is before — that may be before the court now is same-sex marriage.

    The court had said we're not going go near what these appellate courts have been ruling around the country, but then yesterday you have this three-judge panel at the — what is it, the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Sixth Circuit, right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So what's the significance of this…

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    OK.

    Well, what happened here is, this Sixth Circuit ruling, which affected four states, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, actually creates a disagreement among the lower federal appellate courts on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

    We now have one circuit saying that it's constitutional for the states to define marriage, and four federal circuits saying it's unconstitutional to say that marriage is only for one man and one woman. So we have that split, which does make it more likely that the Supreme Court will step in to resolve the division and have uniform law.

    To me, Judy, the real question here is timing. Now, there are lawyers involved in those cases that were just decided yesterday who lost who said they are going immediately to the Supreme Court. There's a tight time frame here. The court accepts cases for the current term until about mid-January, and then anything else is going to be pushed over to the new term.

    They probably can do it, these lawyers. They're very skilled. We will just have to wait and see if they can meet the time schedule and if the court is really ready right now to resolve the disagreement.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we will know at some point pretty soon, I guess, whether they are going to take it up.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    I believe so.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Marcia Coyle, we thank you.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    My pleasure, Judy.

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