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Obamacare Support Grows Amid Latest Supreme Court Win

06/26/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
Manuel Camacho doesn't have many flattering words for Obamacare.

"Ridiculous," the New Jersey resident says. "A headache," he says. "We were pretty much forced to get it," he says.

And yet, even before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday on the legality of the  provision in the Affordable Care Act that gives federal subsidies to people in the Garden State, the 33-year-old security guard sounded an almost appreciative tone.

Like Obamacare or not, Camarcho's $75-a-month premium for basic health insurance definitely beats the roughly $200 he says he'd be billed monthly without the federal discount.

"There's no way I could afford that," he said, conceding the Obamacare tax credits are what's keeping him afloat.

The nanny-state lie behind Obamacare

Fortunately for Camacho and an estimated 6.4 million Americans across 34 mostly Republican-led states, the status quo prevailed on Thursday.

In the case known as King v. Burwell, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that subsidies under the Affordable Care Act are legal for all low- and middle-income Americans, regardless of whether a state chose to create its own "exchange," or online insurance marketplace.

Those largely "red" states — New Jersey among them — had opted to have the federal government step in and set up an official health-insurance marketplace through HealthCare.gov.

But Obamacare opponents had challenged that, claiming a provision in the health-care act is worded in such a way that subsidies should only be available to Americans on exchanges established by the state. That would exclude subsidies for purchases on exchanges created by the federal government.

Had the Supreme Court struck down the subsidies for those holdout states, the lives of millions would have been affected by enormous insurance price hikes.

Opinion shifting

In New Jersey, where the average credit is $306 a month, some 170,000 people can now breathe a little easier, said Maura Collinsgru, the health-care program director for the advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action.

"That's how many people in our state would have lost credits and likely would have lost their coverage because it would have become unaffordable," she said.

"Hopefully we can now move forward in making what we started under the ACA reform even better."

That's a big hope. So far, the Republican-controlled Congress has voted nearly 60 times to repeal, tweak or undermine the Affordable Care Act.

But with each deflected anti-Obamacare attack, like Thursday's second win in the Supreme Court, sentiment supporting the president's signature legislative achievement is growing, Collinsgru believes.

"All those repeal efforts and now this Supreme Court case has, on the flip side, done a service to people trying to raise awareness of the benefits and protections of the ACA," she said.

Recent polls suggest she could be right.

A CBS-New York Times survey on Monday found that for the first time in their polling, more people supported the health-care law (47 per cent) than opposed it (44 per cent).

Although still short of a majority in favour, the gains are notable considering its unpopularity among Americans since it became law in 2010.

According to the CBS-NYT poll, many who weren't sold on Obamacare nevertheless found something to approve of: for example, 70 per cent were in favour of letting people retain their federal subsidies, a pillar of the reform program.

Christie off the hook

Collinsgru expects Thursday's outcome was good news for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, even if he's loath to admit as much.

"I would imagine he's relieved of the decision because he will not now have to take a proactive step to secure tax credits for more than 170,000 New Jerseyians," she said.

The Republican governor has admitted he was reaping the budgetary benefits of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and had called it "the right decision" for his state during a March town hall meeting.

The 2013 Medicaid expansion, which some observers saw as a tacit acceptance of Obamacare by mostly Republican legislatures, has helped save New Jersey $150 million, according to the state's treasurer, with a projected $417 more to be saved in fiscal 2016.

Christie, however, has been mum about those savings, parroting Republicans who have condemned the health-care law.

In fact, minutes after the Supreme Court decision declaring the tax credits legal, Christie tweeted that "leaders must turn our attention to making the case that Obamacare must be replaced."

Moving on

In the meantime, the continuation of those federal subsidies should allow Teresa Brooks, a 63-year-old retiree in Jersey City, to keep paying the $95 a month for her daughter's health insurance while she attends college.

"But that's just for my daughter — that's not for us," Brooks said.

Without the discount? "Definitely we'd be out. She just would not have health insurance. And in college, you need to have health insurance."

Collinsgru is now looking forward to bringing in more people in the next open enrolment period for coverage in November.

She believes there's been enough affirmation around the program.

"It's time to quit the repeal attempts," she said. "They've tried 54 times to undermine it. Now, this Supreme Court decision says the ACA is here to stay, it will stay, and it's time to move forward."

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