Hoyer: Court ignores Congress’s intent

Greg Nash

A federal court ignored congressional intent in ruling this week that insurance subsidies under President Obama's healthcare law don't apply to federal exchanges, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

“The intent of the Congress, I think, was pretty clear,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “That all people, whether … the exchange, itself, was established by the state or it was the federal exchange, that clearly the subsidies would apply.”

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Hoyer, the Democratic whip, was quick to emphasize that he hasn't examined the ruling, which was released just a few hours earlier. But he noted that the Supreme Court in 2012 had supported the law “as a constitutional exercise of the power of the Congress.”

“The biggest court of all, which is usually not with our view on controversial questions, ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

In its 2-1 ruling Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said the healthcare law’s premium subsidies do not apply to beneficiaries living in states that did not create their own insurance exchanges, leaving that task to the federal government.

“Because we conclude that the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges 'established by the State,' we reverse the district court and vacate the IRS’s regulation,” the majority said.

Just an hour later, another federal court of appeals — the 4th Circuit Court based in Richmond, Va. — ruled unanimously that the subsidies on the federal exchanges are legal.

The Obama administration said it will appeal the first court’s ruling. But Republicans, who have voted repeatedly to repeal the ACA, were quick to pounce, with House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) issuing a statement calling the ruling “further proof” the law is “completely unworkable.”

“It cannot be fixed,” Boehner said. “The American people recognize that ObamaCare is hurting our economy and making it harder for small businesses to hire, and that’s why Republicans remain committed to repealing the law and replacing it with solutions that will lower healthcare costs and protect American jobs.”

With their repeal votes, Republicans have hoped to make the ACA an election year issue. 

Hoyer said Tuesday that the law, “at worst,” will be a “neutral” factor at the polls in November.

“In fact, I think Republicans have largely stopped advertising on the Affordable Care Act,” he said, pointing to GOP governors in particular.