The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to the reach of the Obama health care law, rescuing the program from a potentially fatal legal challenge for the second time since Obamacare's inception.
By a 6-3 vote, the justices said consumers qualify for a subsidy that lowers the cost of premiums whether they buy their coverage through federal or state exchanges. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.
Justice Antonin Scalia said people should start calling the law "SCOTUS care".
More than six million lower-income Americans who get their health insurance through the federal marketplace or exchange — HealthCare.Gov — depend on the subsidies, reducing their premiums an average of 72 percent, saving an average of $270 a month.
Opponents of the law claimed that the actual wording of the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress made subsidies available only to insurance customers who bought their policies through "an exchange established by the state" where the policyholders live.
If the challengers had prevailed, customers who bought their insurance on the federal exchange — by far the majority of those insured by Obamacare — would have lost the subsidies. Only 16 states now have their own health exchanges up and running.
The health insurance industry had warned that if the challenge succeeded, the Affordable Care Act would have entered a "death spiral" — with costs rising for a shrinking number of participants, eventually causing the system to collapse.
Among the law's provisions are requirements that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions and that nearly all Americans obtain health insurance. Congress knew that those components of the health care system would not work, the Obama administration had argued, if the subsidies that make insurance affordable for millions of people were available only on state exchanges.