By Ferdous Al-Faruque - 08/01/14 02:57 PM EDT
The Obama administration on Friday appealed the ruling that some subsidies under ObamaCare are illegal.
The Justice Department filed a petition with the full D.C. Circuit Court asking the judges to review the ruling in Halbig v. Burwell that overturned some of the subsidies distributed to help people pay for health insurance.
“The disruption threatened by the panel majority’s erroneous interpretation and the direct conflict with King present a question of ‘exceptional importance’ warranting en banc consideration,” the Justice Department wrote in its petition.
The ruling by the three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit conflicted with a separate decision handed down the same day in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The majority in that case, King v. Burwell, found the subsidies were legal.
The central question facing the courts is whether the language of the healthcare law limits the federal subsidies to healthcare exchanges created by the states. If so, subsidies cannot be distributed through the federal exchange HealthCare.gov, which now serves 5 million people in 34 states.
Attorneys on both sides agree that a strict reading of the Affordable Care Act specifies that only an “exchange established by the State” is eligible for subsidies, but the Obama administration says that was not the intention of Congress.
In order for the D.C. Circuit Court to revisit Burwell, a majority of the court's 17 judges would have to agree to rehear the case.
While the plaintiffs in the case are not required to file a response brief, the court may order them to do so, “given the high-profile nature of the case,” according to a Justice Department official.
“It is unclear when we might have a decision on whether they’ll hear the case en banc, given they would likely give the other side at least a few weeks to craft a response brief and then additional time would be taken to review the briefs before decision made,” the official said.
Earlier this week, plaintiffs in the King case also filed a petition with the Supreme Court to review their case.