Former Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, became the latest lawmaker involved in the drafting of President Obama’s health care law to undermine the case against the legislation currently being considered by the Supreme Court. In an interview with the New York Times, Snowe, who left office in 2013, said that the language at the heart of the suit was perhaps the product of “inadvertent language” and “never part of our conversations at any point.”
The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, King vs. Burwell, say a phrase in the law — “established by the state” — means that only those participating in exchanges set up by the states have have access to federal tax subsidies to offset their premiums. Currently, residents in the 34 states that did not chose to set up their own exchanges have access to the subsidies through a federal exchange marketplace, which plaintiffs say contradicts the four words in question.
However, Snowe said that having the subsidies available only to those using the state exchanges was “never part of our conversations at any point.”
“Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange,” she said.
If the Supreme Court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor and calls the subsidies offered through the federal exchange illegal, some 7.5 million people stand to lose their subsidies and many more could see their premiums rise. It is widely believed the entire law will fall apart without the subsidies and Republican lawmakers have so far failed to come up with a back-up plan in the case of a ruling against Obamacare.
The New York Times interviewed a number of other people — including staff of lawmakers of both parties — involved in the drafting of the bill. While accounts varied as to how the contested language got into the law, they overwhelmingly disagreed with the plaintiffs’ premise that legislators intended to deny subsidies to those participating in the federal exchange.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell in March and is expected to rule in late June.