National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

March 2, 2015

DHS Funding: Last Friday evening, Congress averted a partial shutdown of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by passing a 7-day funding bill for the Department. The House of Representatives, with support from Democrats, voted 357-60 for approval. The Senate passed the bill by a voice vote. President Barack Obama then signed the measure into law. Lawmakers have until this Friday to make another attempt to reconcile disputes over immigration policy and fund DHS for the long-term.

Affordable Care Act: The US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments this Wednesday in the King v. Burwell case, which challenges the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare subsidies for all Americans. At issue is whether can provide subsidies nationwide to people who buy insurance, or only to those in the states that have set up their own online marketplaces (i.e. exchanges).

The language of the Affordable Care Act states that people qualify for credits (i.e. subsidies) when they buy insurance on an exchange “established by the state.” Only about one third of states have set up exchanges, while the rest rely on the federal system. The challengers in this case argue that people who buy on the federal exchange (in the remaining 34 states that don’t have their own state exchanges) cannot claim the subsidies.

The Obama administration argues that the disputed phrase includes a federally facilitated exchange. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli has said Congress designed the law with the goal of offering tax credits nationwide and no member of Congress suggested otherwise during the debate over the measure. Verrilli has urged the court to look beyond those four words that opponents of the Act have glommed onto a consider the rest of the act and its broad purpose of providing coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

The New York Times, in an editorial yesterday, labeled the lawsuit a “phony attack on health care,” accusing the challengers in the case of deliberately searching for anything in the law that might be used to gut it, having failed on constitutional grounds in 2012. As egregious, the Times writes, was the strategy to set-up the very scenario for this litigation “(not coincidentally, the challengers also traveled state to state urging officials not to set up exchanges, thus helping to create the very ‘crisis’ they now decry.)”

If the Supreme Court votes in favor of the challengers to the ACA, the system would have to stop providing tax credits for an estimated 7.5 million Americans in the 34 states that never authorized their own exchanges. Many of those people would probably find premiums unaffordable without the subsidies and would drop their coverage, increasing the number of uninsured Americans.

The court will rule in this case by the end of June.