U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman upheld yesterday in Halbig, et al., v. Sebelius, et alan Internal Revenue Service rule that authorized the payment of premium assistance tax credits in federal-run health exchanges. The plaintiffs had argued that the statutory text of the Affordable Care Act only provided for such subsidies through exchanges “established by a state.”
This is an unfortunate setback for opponents of Obamacare’s flawed structure, but not a fatal one. Three other similar lawsuits—in federal district courts in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Indiana—remain under review at this time before final rulings on their merits. The District of Columbia—based decision will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
To place today’s decision in context, it was a closer call than the final ruling might suggest. Judge Friedman acknowledged that there is more than one plausible reading of the challenged phrases involving federal tax credits in the law passed by Congress in March 2010.