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Supreme Court Upholds Subsidies In Affordable Care Act


Obamacare has survived another near-death experience in the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled today that the federal government can continue to offer subsidized health insurance to people in all 50 states.


It was a 6 to 3 decision and another vindication or President Obama's signature health care law. He called it a victory for hard-working Americans.


BARACK OBAMA: As the dust has settled, there can be no doubt that this law is working. It has changed and, in some cases, saved American lives.

CORNISH: Today's a decision prevents what could have been a major disruption of insurance markets across the country. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Among those breathing a sigh of relief at today's court ruling was Marilyn Schramm of Austin, Texas. She's just completed a round of chemotherapy for colon cancer which she can only afford thanks to her subsidized Obamacare insurance policy. Schramm says had the court struck down those subsidies, her premiums would have doubled to $800 a month.

MARILYN SCHRAMM: Well, I'm just really glad to have this off my mind. I have enough I'm dealing with with the cancer. It might even be worth a glass of wine tonight to celebrate.

HORSLEY: Today's decision preserves insurance subsidies for some 6-and-a-half million people in nearly three dozen states. Obama warned had the court ruled the other way, many of those people would have lost their insurance, and the ripple effects would have raised prices for millions more.


OBAMA: America would've gone backwards, and that's not what we do. That's not what America does. We move forward.

HORSLEY: The president's legacy health care law was once again rescued by the court's chief justice, John Roberts, who, along with five colleagues, chose to overlook some clumsy language in the statute suggesting subsidies might be limited to states that set up their own insurance exchanges. That in-artful passage has to be judged in context, Roberts wrote. Congress intended the law to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them. Three dissenters, led by Antonin Scalia, accused the majority of somersaults of statutory interpretation. Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, was not impressed with the court's ruling, saying it doesn't change what he calls Obamacare's spectacular flops.


MITCH MCCONNELL: That we're even discussing another of Obamacare's self-inflicted brushes with the brink yet again is the latest indictment of a law that's been a rolling disaster for the American people.

HORSLEY: But today's ruling also provides some breathing room for congressional Republicans who might've faced pressure to extend the health insurance subsidies, at least temporarily, while they try to come up with their own health care proposal. Republicans in Congress and on the presidential trail continue to insist that Obamacare must be repealed. But Peter Suderman, senior editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, says they've yet to assemble any plausible replacement.

PETER SUDERMAN: The Republicans have absolutely missed an opportunity. Republicans have, for years, promised that some sort of alternative was coming and have really failed to unify behind one.

HORSLEY: The threat for Republicans is that having survived this latest court challenge Obama care will continue to put down roots, making it that much harder to rip out. For the first time this month, a CBS New York Times poll found more people approve the law than disapprove. Obama notes more than 16 million Americans who were uninsured now have coverage thanks to the law, and others are enjoying newfound health care protections.


OBAMA: This is not an abstract thing anymore. This is not a set of political talking points. This is reality.

HORSLEY: Other big chunks of the president's agenda have also been moving forward in fits and starts. Obama's effort to strike a big Asia-Pacific trade deal staged its own death-defying come back this week as lawmakers granted the president fast-track negotiating authority. Meanwhile, a potentially historic nuclear deal with Iran is approaching its own climactic deadline. Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden this morning, Obama took a moment to savor his victory, however messy. This was a good day for America, the president said. Let's get back to work. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.