Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) is no fan of the Affordable Care Act. He supported the first Supreme Court case seeking to repeal the law, and he claimed that the law is “unconstitutional.” And yet, at a news conference last week, Mead echoed many of the Justice Department’s warnings regarding what will happen if the justices side with a new case seeking to gut the law. Indeed, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Mead “hopes the court will reject the case and uphold the law.”
The attorneys behind King v. Burwell asked the Supreme Court to cut off tax credits, which allow millions of Americans to afford their health insurance, in close to three dozen states. If the justices agree to do so, millions of people’s premiums will triple or worse, and an estimated 8 million people insured through the law’s exchanges will lose their coverage. Nearly 10,000 people will die every year who otherwise would have lived, according to one estimate. Meanwhile, the sudden, enormous spikes in the cost of insurance will destabilize many states’ individual insurance markets, potentially triggering a “death spiral” that will cause those markets to collapse.
In his press conference, Mead worried about the chaos that would result from a decision that allowed all of this to happen. “If on June 30, if that’s when the case comes down, and they say no more subsidies for federal exchanges … it is going to cause a lot of turmoil,” he warned, adding that his home state of Wyoming “will be scrambling” if the King plaintiffs win their case.
During oral arguments on King, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli expressed similar concerns that the states will not be able to adapt to a decision cutting off tax credits.
Justice Samuel Alito, who spent much of those arguments advocating for the plaintiffs’ position in King, asked Verrilli whether the Court could mitigate some of the problems that would result from a decision cutting off tax credits by staying its decision “until the end of this tax year.” Even under the plaintiffs’ theory in King, states could restore tax credits by setting up a state-run health exchange under the Affordable Care Act, so Alito appeared to be suggesting that a stay could give these states enough time to set up such an exchange.
Verrilli, however, laid out why this was not a practical solution. “[I]n order to have an exchange approved and insurance policies on the exchange ready for the 2016 year,” the solicitor general explained, “those approvals have to occur by May of 2015.” So, “the idea that a number of States . . . are going to be able to in the 6 months between when a decision in the this case would come out” and “when the new year for insurance purposes will begin” is “completely unrealistic.”