Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Words Matter, I've Heard

Federal subsidies for Obamacare insurance policies through the state exchanges rather than the federal exchange were subjected to two court rulings:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that the language in the Affordable Care Act dealing with subsidies shows they should only be provided to consumers who purchase benefits on exchanges run by individual states. ...

But plaintiffs in the D.C. Circuit case, known as Halbig v. Burwell, claimed that Congress did not intend to provide subsidies through federally operated marketplaces. The plaintiffs were identified as a group of individuals and employers from states that did not establish their own marketplaces.

My experience is with Michigan legislation and not federal statutes. And I'm not an attorney, I hasten to add (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But here, you don't go to the legislative intent if the plain language of the statute allows the courts to rule on the issue. If you don't have this concept at the federal level, too, we aren't really a nation of laws. If the law as written is not the law, what can we rely on? I don't see how you can't agree that the DC Court of Appeals ruling is correct and the Circuit decision is political.

Even if you want to go to the legislative intent, recall that the law was rammed through over united Republican objections and the difference in state versus federal exchanges was intended by the drafters to dangle federal money in front of any governors who might not want to set up a state exchange. So the intent was not to have the federal and state exchanges the same.

Maybe if the Democratically controlled Congress hadn't rammed this massive law through without going through the normal process to gain at least some Republican cooperation, we could have worked out these kinks and perhaps even read the bill to find out what is in it.

Words matter, as the president once said. And if the words in our statutes don't matter, what kind of nation are we?