The Slatest

This Morning’s Convoluted D.C. Circuit Judicial News Is Good for Obamacare

[In Dana Carvey voice] The judicial system!

Photo by trekandshoot/Shutterstock

The full U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has announced that it will hear the case of Halbig v. Burwell, a decision that takes a little bit of explaining but is in short a Good Thing for supporters of the Affordable Care Act. For the full breakdown, see this ThinkProgress piece. Here are the Kliff Notes (so named because of leading health care policy reporter Sarah Kliff):

Halbig v. Burwell is a lawsuit that seeks, via what is either a literal reading of the ACA or a disingenous technicality, depending your interpretation, to defund Obamacare subsidies in any state whose citizens use the federal government’s insurance marketplace. (Some states have set up their own marketplaces.)

Circuit appeals courts are made up of a number of different judges. A panel of three judges is assigned to each case. In Halbig, those judges voted 2–1 in favor of the anti-Obamacare plaintiffs.

Because this particular ACA issue had been decided in pro-Obamacare fashion elsewhere in the country, the D.C. court’s ruling created the possibility that the Supreme Court would take up the case to settle the differences.

But! Circuit courts can, in full or en banc, hear a case and reverse a three-judge panel’s ruling. The D.C. court announced this morning that it will hear the Halbig case en banc. Given the backgrounds of the circuit’s judges as a whole, experts expect the court will ultimately decide to uphold the ACA.

With all the country’s judicial reviewers in agreement, the Supreme Court would have little reason to take up Halbig. (All the Country’s Judicial Reviewers was an unpopular sequel to All the King’s Men.*)

In short: Subsidized health insurance purchases on federally managed marketplaces for everyone (who qualifies under the terms of the Affordable Care Act)!