Appeals Court panels conflicted over Obamacare health insurance subsidies

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Two separate panels of federal appeals court judges issued conflicting opinions Tuesday on challenges to the federal government subsidies to people who buy health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

A three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. unanimously upheld the Obamacare subsidies in a decision released Tuesday. The panel ruled that a federally operated health insurance exchange, in addition to a state-operated exchange, can offer these subsidies.

“[W]e find that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, however, we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion,” Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the 4th Circuit panel.

Gregory added, it’s “clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act’s primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill.”

A few hours earlier, a three-judge panel on the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled just the opposite: a federally operated exchange cannot legally provide these subsidies. The vote on that panel was 2-1, with two Republican-appointed judges outvoting a Democratic-appointed judge.

The conflicting opinions will likely have to be sorted out after a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 36 states, including Georgia, the Obamacare health insurance exchange is operated by the federal government. The exchanges are operated by the states in 14 states.

The split decision from the D.C. Circuit appeals court panel broke down along partisan lines. Appeals Court Judges Thomas B. Griffith and A. Raymond Randolph, who voted for the ruling, are Republican appointees to the federal bench. Judge Harry T. Edwards, a Democratic appointee, dissented from the majority decision.

The Obama administration is expected to appeal the ruling to the full bench of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That vote would involve 13 judges, eight of them appointed by Democratic presidents and five of them Republican appointees.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: ACA. U.S. Court of Appeals , federal subsidies , health insurance exchanges