WASHINGTON (CNN) — The future of health care in America is on the table — and in serious jeopardy — this morning in the Supreme Court.
Justices will hear oral arguments in a case challenging a central provision of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
They’ll focus on just a single section of the law governing the establishment of so-called health exchanges. But while the scope may be narrow, the stakes are enormous.
The arguments could provide hints about whether the justices believe the law does not authorize the government to provide federal subsidies for Obamacare beneficiaries in the 34 states that didn’t establish their own exchange. If the Court ultimately rules against the Obama administration, more than 5 million individuals will no longer be eligible for the subsidies, shaking up the insurance market and potentially dealing the law a fatal blow.
Obama has expressed confidence in the legal underpinning of the law in recent days.
“There is, in our view, not a plausible legal basis for striking it down,” he told Reuters this week.
Wednesday’s hearing marks the third time that parts of the health care law have been challenged at the Supreme Court.
In this case — King v. Burwell — the challengers say that Congress always meant to limit the subsidies to encourage states to set up their own exchanges. But when only 16 states acted, they argue the IRS tried to move in and interpret the law differently.
Republican critics of the law, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, filed briefs warning that the executive was encroaching on Congress’ “law making function” and that the IRS interpretation “opens the door to hundreds of billions of dollars of additional government spending.”
In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and two other Republicans in Congress said that if the Court rules in their favor “Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions.”
Hatch said that Republicans would work with the states and give them the “freedom and flexibility to create better, more competitive health insurance markets offering more options and different choices.”
In Court, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli is expected to stress that four words—“established by the state”– found in one section of the law were a term of art meant to include both state run and federally facilitated exchanges.
He will argue the justices need only read the entire statute to understand Congress meant to issue subsidies to all eligible individuals enrolled in all of the exchanges.
Democratic congressmen involved in the crafting of the legislation filed briefs on behalf of the government arguing that Congress’ intent was to provide insurance to has many people as possible and that the challengers’ position is not consistent with the text and history of the statute.
Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell warned that if the government loses it has prepared no back up plan to “undo the massive damage.”