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RELEASE: Lawmakers File Brief In Support Of Health Care Tax Credits In Latest ACA Lawsuit

02/18/2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lawmakers File Brief In Support Of Health Care Tax Credits In Latest ACA Lawsuit

State Legislators & Congressional Leaders Affirm That ACA Tax Credits Should Be Available In All States, Contrary to Opponents' Claims

Washington, DC -- This week, 125 state legislators across 28 states who are working with Progressive States Network and the Constitutional Accountability Center filed a brief in the case of Halbig v. Sebelius in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Joined in the brief by Congressional leaders, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, these lawmakers affirm that the tax credits provided under the Affordable Care Act -- the legislative provisions at issue in the Halbig case -- were indeed intended and crafted to be available to the American people regardless of their state.

"Look no further than the lawmakers themselves to explain the Affordable Care Act's intended effect," said Ann Pratt, Executive Director of Progressive States Network. "These legislators affirm that yes, Congress wrote the health care law to make the insurance subsidies available in every state, whether it's running its own exchange or the federal government is operating an exchange on its behalf. This is the consensus understanding of the elected legislators who fought to pass and then implement the Affordable Care Act. Incredibly, opponents of the health care law claiming otherwise would rather deny their own constituents tax credits just to score political points. If they would show as much effort and creativity in making health reform work even better for the American people, imagine what we could achieve."

Washington State Senator Karen Keiser, whose state runs its own exchange, agreed. “The Halbig case is yet another attempt to sabotage a law that is already saving lives and money for millions of Americans, including right here in Washington where we have one of the most successful health insurance marketplaces in the country. We created the Washington Health Benefit Exchange for a number of reasons, but the notion that our constituents' access to the ACA tax credit hinged on the creation of our own state-run exchange never even came into the equation. It wasn't until opponents of the Affordable Care Act started brainstorming ways to strike down the law after enactment that the idea appeared on the scene."

"The health law was written to benefit Americans regardless of where they live," said Maine Representative Sharon Treat. "In Maine, we closely followed the Congressional debate, and after the law was enacted the Legislature assessed all options before opting to rely on the federally-facilitated exchange for our state. We all understood that our constituents would be able to access the health care tax credit even if Maine didn’t establish its own state-based exchange."

Rep. Treat, who is the House Chair of Maine's Joint Standing Committee on Insurance & Financial Services and the Co-Chair of the Maine Health Exchange Advisory Committee, continued: "Indeed, three different advisory committees of legislators and stakeholders reviewed the law’s provisions and made recommendations concerning implementation without this issue ever coming up. Mainers have been signing up for health insurance on the federally-facilitated exchange at a rate exceeding all expectations, and 89 percent of those signing up are eligible for subsidies based on income. This latest politically-driven legal challenge defies common sense and would pull the rug out from under the very people the Affordable Care Act is intended to benefit. The issue was only raised by Republican legislators who opposed the ACA after the media began to discuss this legal challenge."

After failing to get the Affordable Care Act struck down in the Supreme Court or repealed in Congress, the health care law's political opponents have continued to mount various legal challenges to it, the latest of which is the Halbig case. In Halbig, the challengers claim that the Act’s authors in Congress drafted the law to intentionally deny the health care tax credit to Americans purchasing coverage through Exchanges operated on behalf of a state by the Federal government. As the brief filed this week explains, these claims are based on unsubstantiated assertions and a tenuous and poor understanding of the Act's legislative history.

To the contrary, the Act's purpose is to provide access to affordable health coverage as widely as possible. During Congressional debate on the Act, federal lawmakers never intended to or communicated any intention to deny tax credits and subsidies to residents of states with Exchanges operated on their behalf by the Federal government.

Furthermore, state officials never perceived any such threat, nor did the states understand the Act to operate in the way that its opponents claim. State governments debated many reasons for and against establishing a state-run exchange, but no state legislator on either side of the aisle raised the possibility that the decision not to set up a state-run exchange would prevent their constituents from accessing the Act’s tax credits and subsidies. To win this case, the Halbig challengers would have to convince the court that all these lawmakers were completely unaware of the most important consequence of the decision whether or not to establish a state exchange -- a claim rejected by the legislators themselves.

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Progressive States Network is a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization that engages and builds the capacity of state and national leaders to advance solutions that uphold America’s promise to be a just and equitable democracy. PSN envisions a prosperous and inclusive America powered by thriving democracies within each state.

Contact: Kate Oh, Progressive States Network, (202) 905-2835,  koh@progressivestates.org