KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Justices Raise Questions About Federal-State Balance, Plaintiffs’ Standing

Oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the challenge to the health law's insurance subsidies, were completed this morning.

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Key Health-Law Case
The justices in King v. Burwell are considering a legal challenge to the tax credits in the 2010 law that is the defining domestic achievement for President Barack Obama. The court is deciding whether language in the law allows the credits to go to lower- and middle-income individuals across the country or is limited to people in states currently operating health-insurance exchanges. The distinction is important because only 13 states and the District of Columbia currently operate an exchange, while more than 30 states are relying on the federal government’s system. (Radnofsky and Kendall, 3/4)

The New York Times: Supreme Court Appears Sharply Split In Case On Health Law
The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed bitterly divided during heated arguments over the fate of President Obama’s health care law. As expected, the court’s four liberal members voiced strong support for the administration’s position. But the administration must almost certainly capture the vote of either Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. or Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to prevail. The chief justice said almost nothing. Justice Kennedy asked questions suggesting that he was uncomfortable with the administration’s reading of the statute. (Liptak, 3/4)

CNN: Obamacare On The Line At SCOTUS
Justices heard oral arguments in a case challenging a central provision of President Barack Obama's signature health care law. And some of the key players kept quiet, leaving court watchers guessing until a decision is announced, likely not before May or June, about the fate of the law. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts, who is normally an active questioner during arguments and was the key swing vote in a separate Obamacare case in 2012, said almost nothing. "Roberts, who's usually a very active participant in oral arguments, said almost nothing for an hour and a half," said CNN's Supreme Court analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who attended the arguments. "(Roberts) was so much a focus of attention because of his vote in the first Obamacare case in 2012 that he somehow didn't want to give people a preview of how he was thinking in this case. ... He said barely a word." (de Vogue, 3/4)

The Washington Post: Justices Hear Key Challenge To Health-Care Law
As arguments began, Michael Carvin, the attorney for the plaintiffs, faced quick questioning from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about whether all the plaintiffs have standing in the court. One of the plaintiffs served in the military, raising the question of whether he could get coverage through the Veterans Administration. “I’m a little concerned with how you envision this provision working,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Carvin. (Barnes, 3/4)

Los Angeles Times: Liberal Justices Skeptical Of Challenge To Healthcare Law
The Supreme Court’s four liberal justices attacked the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act as oral arguments began Wednesday morning in a lawsuit that threatens to strip away federal insurance subsidies from millions of Americans and critically undermine the law’s program for expanding health coverage nationwide. ... And Justice Anthony Kennedy, traditionally a swing vote in the court, voiced a somewhat cryptic criticism of the legal challenge. ... Kennedy appeared troubled by the suggestion that the law would present states with a huge threat by prohibiting their residents from getting insurance subsidies unless they established insurance marketplaces under the law, as the challengers have claimed. ... All eyes will be on Roberts, who came under fierce attack from conservatives three years ago for sparing a law that has animated Republican politics since it was enacted. (Levey, 3/4)

Reuters: U.S. Supreme Court Justices Weigh Challenge To Obamacare
The oral argument before the nine justices concluded in the closely watched case that could cripple Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. A decision is due by the end of June. Midway through the argument, Kennedy said throwing out subsidies would unlawfully pressure states and cause an insurance "death spiral." Kennedy added that the challengers may win anyway based on the plain meaning of the provision at issue. The four liberal Justices criticized the challenge to the subsidies. (Hurley, 3/4)

The Associated Press: Justices Pepper Health Care Law Opponents With Questions
Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote is seen as pivotal, suggested that the plaintiffs' argument raises a "serious" constitutional problem affecting the relationship between states and the federal government. The plaintiffs argue that only residents of states that set up their own insurance markets can get federal subsidies to help pay their premiums. (Sherman, 3/4)

Bloomberg Business: Hospital Stocks Surge After Justice Kennedy Criticizes Obamacare Challenge
Tenet Healthcare Corp. and HCA Holdings Inc. led a rally among hospital companies as a Supreme Court challenge to Obamacare’s insurance subsidies drew questions from a pivotal justice. Anthony Kennedy, who is often a swing vote in important cases, said Wednesday there is a “powerful” point to the Obama administration’s argument that the health-care law would fall apart if the subsidies were ruled unlawful. “There is a serious constitutional problem,” Kennedy said, if the court rules for the challengers’ attack on tax credits designed to help people afford insurance. (Tracer, 3/4)

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