In once again upholding Obamacare against a challenge from those who are fighting tooth and nail to destroy it, the Supreme Court delivered a victory for everyone: for President Obama and his signature legislative achievement, for the more than six million Americans who would have been at risk of losing their health insurance, and – perhaps paradoxically – for the Republicans who have been at the heart of every effort to eviscerate the law.
What the Supreme Court decided Thursday morning was actually quite simple, and is deeply rooted in common sense. The Court said that the language of Obamacare must be read with the purpose of the law in mind, and that interpretations of the language of the law that would completely gut its main purpose – to provide great access to health insurance for all Americans – must be avoided unless absolutely required by the statute.
In particular, the high court said one portion of the language – about how people who receive their health insurance through state exchanges can receive federal tax subsidies – has to be read to include people who use exchanges set up by the federal government in states that have refused to establish their own. This makes good sense: reading it otherwise would mean that health insurance would be less accessible for these individuals, contrary to the purpose of the law.
The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts on behalf of himself and five other Justices (Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan), and it has given everyone a victory. Here's how:
Yes, it's true that almost every Republican on the national political scene has spent years railing against Obamacare and working tirelessly to gut it. They supported this recent challenge to the law, as well as the earlier constitutional challenge (which the chief justice also rejected, in 2012). So how could this possibly be a win for them?
It is a win because it avoids them actually having to solve the messy problem of what would have happened to the more than six million people whose health insurance would have been on the chopping block if the Supreme Court had decided otherwise. They've been given the gift of not having to face these Americans – who, by the way, are mostly in Republican-led states – and explain why they fought for such an outcome, or how they had no plan to solve the problems it would have created.
And while they are not having to solve that problem – a problem that could have torn the party apart as its members fought endlessly about practicality versus principle – they can still bloviate about the horrors of Obamacare and the "activist" Supreme Court. This tough talk about Obamacare, and particularly about the court, will be well received by the party, especially since it will be all talk and nothing more.
In other words, the Republican Party dodged a possibly fatal bullet without having to sacrifice the rhetorical arguments that they thrive on.
And a decade or two from now, when Obamacare is an entrenched government program that everyone appreciates, the Republicans can claim that they did not in fact dismantle it!
Quite obviously, this is a massive victory for President Obama. The law has now twice been upheld by one of the most conservative Supreme Courts in history. The court has said the law is constitutional and works as written. Five years into its implementation, millions more people have been able to afford health insurance, and the country's uninsured rate has plummeted.
The president has adopted the term Obamacare – originally coined by conservatives – because he sees the law as what he will be remembered for. He wants his name attached to it, and now it is almost guaranteed to survive well into the future.
The process of writing and passing the law was messy, and there are still some legal challenges on the horizon, but from that mess has come an advance for this country that has eluded presidents and Congresses for generations. Obama got it done, and his legacy on this issue is now solidified.
Millions of now-insured Americans
Most importantly, Thursday's decision is a huge win for the millions of Americans who purchased more-affordable health insurance on exchanges in states that refused to establish their own. These states have been recalcitrant and callous to the needs of their citizens for no reason other than party politics, and this stubbornness threatened millions of people's health and financial wellbeing.
The federal government stepped in to create exchanges in the states' absence, and now the Supreme Court has given its blessing. For those who were worried that their health insurance would become unaffordable and that they'd have to go back to the days of possibly not being insured, this is a true, unadulterated victory.
As I predicted a few weeks ago, it's very possible that this case came down the way it did because enough justices understood the real-world consequence it would have for millions of Americans.
But regardless of the reason behind the decision, make no mistake about it: It is a victory for everyone.