Last month, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that consumers accessing Obamacare through state-run health insurance exchanges should not be eligible for tax credits under the health-care law. This is an eye-opening reminder of the profound impact that the courts can have on our daily lives.
This ill-conceived decision also brought into the spotlight, once again, the failure of Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders to expand health-care access to nearly a million working Floridians.
Both judges who ruled to take away consumers’ tax credit eligibility were appointed by Republican presidents: Judges Thomas Griffith and Raymond Randolph were named by Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, respectively. Their extreme right-wing judicial activism continues a pattern of Republicans doing everything in their power to delay, block, undermine and ultimately repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature law.
At least one of the two conservative judges who rendered this decision has publicly opposed the Affordable Care Act. Judge Raymond Randolph called the launch of Obamacare “an unmitigated disaster” – despite eight million people signing up – and argued the law should be defunded.
In truth, the real “unmitigated disaster” would occur if Randolph and Griffith’s decision were to be upheld. If federal subsidies were suddenly eliminated from the insurance marketplace, it would force insurers to hike their premiums to make up for it.
Some economists have warned that under this scenario health insurance rates would spiral out of control, rendering insurance unaffordable for 99 percent of the families and individuals eligible for subsidies within the federal exchanges. Millions of Americans would lose their coverage all because of two conservative judges who are literally playing politics with people’s lives.
The good news is that this is unlikely to happen. On the same day of the D.C. Circuit Court panel’s ruling, the 4thCircuit Court took the exact opposite position and upheld the Affordable Care Act’s vital tax credits. And most legal observers expect the full D.C. Circuit to overturn its own three-judge panel – in large part because of the flimsy legal argument made by Judges Randolph and Griffith, but also because the full D.C. Circuit is not comprised of a majority of far-right, anti-Obamacare judges.
The court battle over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a prime example of why courts matter. If right-wing politicians are successful in politicizing the judiciary enough to overturn the ACA’s tax credits, millions of Americans will in effect have a health-care tax imposed on them. Many will be forced to drop their health coverage altogether.
Florida has a lot riding on the outcome of this fight. Despite Gov. Scott and state legislative leaders hindering Obamacare at every turn, Florida had one of the country’s highest enrollment rates on the federal exchange, with about one million sign-ups. Of the 983,775 people in Florida who selected a private health plan through Obamacare’s federal health insurance exchange, 91 percent received financial aid to pay for it. That’s financial aid that the GOP’s legal effort against the ACA would, if successful, take away.
If you believe all Americans should have access to affordable health insurance, supporting candidates that if elected will appoint diverse, fair judges to our courts is a good place to start.
Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization.