Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Party like it's 1981 with the retro NHPR t-shirt when you join as a $13-a-month sustainer today!

Supreme Court To Announce Decision On Obamacare Subsidies


It is hard to think of a recent law that's been more politically divisive than the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. But here's one area of agreement. Both Democrats and Republicans recognize that if the Supreme Court decides to strike down a central part of the law this month, more than six million Americans will lose their health insurance subsidies. Democrats say this is the cost of attacking a good law. Republicans say this may be a necessary step in dismantling a law implemented unlawfully. But if the court rules against the law, the question is what's next. NPR's Juana Summers looks at the options in Congress.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: With a Supreme Court decision looming that could strip the health benefits of millions of people, Republicans say they are ready to step up. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.


SEN JOHN BARRASSO: We have worked on legislation in both the House and the Senate. We're coming very close together on that. We'll bring that out after the Supreme Court makes a ruling and it does protect those people who have felt that they were following the law even though the president wasn't actually following the law. So we do want to help and protect them through this transition.

SUMMERS: Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has a plan that would extend subsidies for current Obamacare enrollees for two more years. It would also repeal the health care law's individual and employer mandates and insurance coverage requirements. Here's Senator Johnson.

SEN RON JOHNSON: It fixes the mess that would be created by President Obama's sloppily written law and one that's been, you know, ruled unlawfully implemented. So, you know, it cleans up that mess. And that's going to be a moment of turmoil, potential chaos.

SUMMERS: Johnson's bill has the support of 30 other Republican senators, including the party leadership. But Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has rejected it.


SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: This bill is, in its current form, is repeal and the president has said that he will not sign something that repeals the act.

SUMMERS: Johnson and his allies have also met resistance in the House, where some Republicans have their own repeal-and-replace ideas. Voting for any extension of Obamacare is like voting for Obamacare, says Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp, a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

REP TIM HUELSKAMP: The idea that we're not going to do anything for another year and a half as a Republican House and Senate is a recipe not only for a policy failure, it's a recipe for a political failure and disaster as well. Republicans very clearly do not have our fingerprints on something that's very unpopular to the American people.

SUMMERS: One Republican alternative is expected to come from a trio of powerful House committee chairs, including Paul Ryan of the Ways and Means Committee. Ryan says they'll be ready if the court creates a window of opportunity now and to keep working on their plan even if it doesn't.


REP PAUL RYAN: So whatever the Supreme Court decides later this month, I think the lesson is absolutely clear - Obamacare is just flat busted. It just doesn't work, and no fix can change that fact.

SUMMERS: Democrats, though, say Republicans have promised for five years to introduce an alternative to Obamacare, thus far coming up short. Here's Sandy Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.


REP SANDY LEVIN: All you've done is issue op-eds and bills, contrary, contradictory bills. So you don't have any plan. Like you haven't had a plan for 60 years.

SUMMERS: They also note that most of the millions at risk of losing their coverage live in Republican-leaning states. Juana Summers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.