Editorial: Obamacare ruling good for America

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Obamacare is here to stay, and America is the better for it.

In a convincing 21-page decision in the case of King v. Burwell, a 6-3 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrated clear-eyed legal reasoning and simple common sense. The Court did Republican critics of Obamacare a big favor, though they won’t admit it. Most important, the Court stood up for 17 million Americans who now get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. That includes 6.4 million people who could have been dropped immediately.

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Thursday’s ruling is a victory for the poor, the young and the sick. It is a victory for our nation’s efforts to control the overall cost of health care. It is a victory — a day to give a sigh of relief — for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System and other urban medical centers that care for the poor, which depend heavily on Obamacare to pay their bills.

Thursday’s ruling solidifies not only President Barack Obama’s legacy, but also that of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who crafted a majority opinion that put the law above partisan quibbling. The justices in the majority shot down the strongest remaining legal challenge to the ACA and, in so doing, made it far harder politically for a future Congress and president to repeal it. As Obama said Thursday, the law “is here to stay.”

The likelihood now is that GOP critics will continue to lambast the Affordable Care Act, but they are spared the difficult job of coming up with an alternative and won’t have to shoulder the blame for millions of Americans getting dumped from the health insurance rolls.

Dissenting from the Court’s majority view were three justices — Scalia, Thomas and Alito — whose legal reasoning barely rises above talk radio “gotcha.” They fixated on four words in the law — “established by the state” — and made no effort to put those words into the law’s clear larger context. But, as Roberts said for the majority, Congress obviously intended federal subsidies for lower income Americans to be available through every state’s Obamacare exchange, whether that exchange was set up by the state or run by the feds. At worst, Congress was guilty of “inartful drafting.”

Without the subsidies in every state, Roberts wrote, the Affordable Care Act would fall into a “death spiral.”

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets,” Roberts wrote, “not to destroy them.”

The ACA is, of course, not perfect. Its cost-savings predictions have fallen short, and specific provisions, such as paying a fee for each individual medical service, merit revisiting. This is where the debate now should turn — to improving, not bowdlerizing — a landmark law that, quite literally, is saving American lives.

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