Scott Brown Has the Single Most Chutzpah-Rich Response to Halbig

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 23 2014 1:42 PM

Scott Brown Has the Single Most Chutzpah-Rich Response to Halbig

As readers of the Internet's many explainer sites know, yesterday two Republican-appointed judges on the D.C. Circuit ruled that language in the Affordable Care Act limited subsidies to the participants in state health care exchanges. Hours later, the 4th Circuit made a 3–0 decision that endorsed an antithetical argument, but if it bleeds, it leads, and the news industry/Republicans/your friends and neighbors are speculating about what would happen if the once crazy-sounding reading of the law were upheld by SCOTUS.

Why did the "state" language survive? According to Democrats (and to people who closely covered the debate), it was an error that should have been fixed, but after Scott Brown was elected to the Senate, Democrats chose to pass the Senate's version of the bill in a hurry, without starting a conference process. (It would have ended with a new vote that could have been filibustered by Brown and his 40 Republican colleagues.) "The ghost of Scott Brown lives on in these unceasing challenges of this duly-passed law," wrote Alec MacGillis last year. Most coverage of the decision has reflected this—Democrats were late to see the problem, then late to realize that libertarian-minded judges could grab on to it to argue that Congress totally meant to pass a law that would screw people who signed up for the federal exchange.

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Massachusetts, where Brown won his last race, has a state-run exchange and would be unaffected even if Halbig were upheld. But New Hampshire, like several blue states, maintains a state/federal partnership—the state handles some of the bureaucracy, the feds handle the exchange. How is Brown reacting to a court decision that would rip away subsidies from people who thought they had them?

Well, yesterday, he reacted as if Halbig was now the law of the land and Democrats had just raised taxes on people.

The court’s ruling means that people receiving subsidies for their insurance coverage will lose those subsidies. Either they will have to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay the full cost of their insurance, or taxes will have to be raised on all of us to make up the difference.

Today, Brown's campaign sent reporters a quick analysis, by Avalere Health, warning that "Americans who signed up for the Affordable Care Act could see dramatic increases in their health care premiums." According to the Brown campaign, "in New Hampshire, premiums for those who have subsidies could jump 70-74 percent."

Of course, the state could prevent the subsidy hikes by doing something rather simple. It could create a state exchange. That way, even if Halbig were upheld, New Hampshire residents would continue to get the subsidies.

But Brown isn't saying anything about New Hampshire creating its own exchange. My own question about whether he'd favor that hasn't been answered—anyone in the Granite State who wants to ask him, be my guest. If Brown does answer, he might come up with something like this reaction from Florida's Republican state Senate President Don Gaetz.

I will never support the state of Florida serving as the instrument by which individuals and businesses are forced into a federal mandate to purchase a health insurance product they may not want. Maybe I'm just partial to the legislative process designed by our founding fathers, rather than the dictates of unelected bureaucrats who seem to change the application of this law as often as President Obama plays a round of golf, but perhaps we ought to look to those members of Congress who not only supported this law but suggested that it be voted on before it was read and see if they can suggest a legislative solution.

Some rambling in here, but the gist is that Gaetz "will never" allow Florida to set up an exchange, even if it's the one thing preventing Floridians who got health care through the ACA from paying soaring, bankrupting new premiums, because Obama. Saying "no" protects Floridians from the mandates.

Last year a Kaiser poll found that awareness of the ACA was surprisingly low. In April 2013, 59 percent of Americans knew that the ACA was being implemented, while 19 percent thought it had been overturned or repealed. Since then, millions of enrollments and the troubled launch of several exchanges has raised awareness of the law. 

And now voters who signed up on most exchanges are being told that their premiums will go up, without being told of how likely this is, or how their current elected officials could fix it.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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