Opinion

3 myths about ObamaCare at the Supreme Court

From whether ObamaCare violates the Constitution to a political upside for the GOP...

Americans are a woefully ignorant people. A third of us can't name even one of three branches of the U.S. government. Two-fifths don't even know which party controls the House or Senate. Millions even think that after the Supreme Court rules on a case, it's sent to Congress for lawmakers' consideration. And so it goes.

If we don't even know these very basics, just imagine how confusing King v. Burwell — a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) — must be. But why let ignorance get in the way of opinion? Supporters and haters of the law simply see it — as they do just about everything — through their prisms of pre-conceived beliefs. This has led to misunderstandings and myths about what the case is all about and ObamaCare in general. Here are a few:

1. The court is deciding whether ObamaCare violates the Constitution.

No, that was the basis of the 2012 ruling that the government won by a 5-4 vote. But King v. Burwell goes deep into the weeds of what's known as statutory interpretation. In plain English, the case revolves around this question: are the law's tax credits available to all Americans — as the government argues — or just those in the 16 states that have set up their own health care exchanges? If you read what hard-core conservatives on the court — like Antonin Scalia — have said in the past, the government should win.

Even Ronald Reagan's solicitor general agrees with the ObamaCare position that tax credits should be available to all. Notes Elizabeth B. Wydra, chief counsel at Constitutional Accountability Center: "Independent judges applying straightforward legal principles should easily conclude that the Affordable Care Act provides financial assistance to all Americans who need it, regardless of who administers the insurance marketplace in their state."

2. Crucial wording could completely doom ObamaCare. 

Not really. Playing off myth #1, ACA opponents have seized upon four key words in the 2010 law, which refer to health care exchanges “established by the state." The critical phrase should have “or federal government” attached, as even opponents admit the law's writers intended. Since only 16 states have established their own exchanges, opponents argue that millions of Americans in the other 34 states are not eligible to receive tax subsidies to purchase health insurance. They would thus see their insurance policy go caput — and with it, any peace of mind about seeing a doctor and affording treatment.

ACA supporters rightly say opponents are taking the wording all too literally. But here's another way of looking at it: In clinging to this semantic argument, detractors have conceded that ObamaCare is legal and proper in at least 16 states. 

3. Republicans could be big winners.

Some GOPers automatically think anything that hurts Obama politically is a win for them. But this binary, simplistic view, overlooks a few things. A ruling for the plaintiffs (the "King" side of the case) could result in some 6.9 million people in 34 states losing their subsidies for coverage. Who do you think they'll blame when they go to the polls in November 2016? The folks who gave them something — or those who fought to take it away? Politicians don't typically win elections by taking stuff away from voters. Also, the groups who have benefitted most from ObamaCare are those that Republicans want to siphon away from Democrats: women, Hispanics, blacks, and anyone aged 18 to 34.

Key swing states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, and New Mexico (71 electoral votes among them) all rejected the GOP in 2012 — and could be driven still further into the Democratic camp in 2016. It's a real gamble for the GOP to suggest that getting rid of ObamaCare will help their case.

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