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Mitch Perry Report for 5.26.15 — That other health care decision affecting Floridians

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Good morning to the unofficial beginning of Summer, which actually began in the Tampa Bay area several weeks ago, if you gauge it by when the temperature gets into the 90s on a regular basis.

Sometime between now and our next federal holiday weekend, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to come down with some major decisions. None will have more impact than their verdict in King. v. Burwell. That’s where the nine justices will rule on whether the tax subsidies available to citizens on the Affordable Care Act can only go to those who live in states that have established their own health insurance marketplaces, and not to the majority of remaining states that are operating federal exchanges.

Florida is one of those states that didn’t create their own exchange. If the court rules for the plaintiffs, those subsidies would go away for many of the 1.6 million Florida citizens currently on the ACA, as well as to the estimated 7.5 million nationally in those federal exchange states currently getting a subsidy to afford coverage.

At issue are four words — “established by the state.” In today’s New York Times, reporter Robert Pear interviews Republicans and Democrats who were involved in drafting the (way too big) 900-page bill; all acknowledge that leaving those words in the law through the various different drafts was a mistake, and that they never intended to make any distinction between federal and state exchanges in terms of the availability of those subsidies.

“It was never part of our conversations at any point,” the story quotes Olympia Snowe as saying. Snowe is a former GOP senator from Maine Snowe, who voted against the final version of the Senate bill. “Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange.” The four words, she said, were perhaps “inadvertent language,” adding, “I don’t know how else to explain it.”

Inadvertent or not, there are legions of people who have been fighting to bring the ACA down for years now, and they may have found the Holy Grail by seizing on those four words in the bill’s language.

Most ominously are the parting words uttered in the piece by Justice Antonin Scalia, who telegraphs his opposition by saying that what matters is “not what Congress would have wanted, but what Congress enacted.”

Advocates for Medicaid expansion in Florida have been fighting uphill all year for the Legislature to back the Florida Senate’s hybrid plan for expansion, which if passed could provide coverage for up to 855,000 Floridians. But the High Court’s ruling could affect many, many people.

In other news —

We don’t want to go all the way back to a story we reported on Friday, but it still bears notice — a bill signed by Rick Scott means that the Hillsborough County Children’s Board won’t be going to the voters next year asking them to support the property taxes that currently keep them in business, a move that could aid the attempt to pass a transit tax in the county.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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