[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] for King v. Burwell [docket]. The court is asked to rule on whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official website] may adopt regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through the federal health insurance exchange [official website] established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) [text, PDF]. If the challenge succeeds, it could have a profound impact on the entire ACA. Justices seemed divided Wednesday, with no clear signal how the court may rule. The Supreme Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] on the matter in November, and a decision is expected by the end of June.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the subsidies [JURIST report] in July, on the same day that the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the subsidies illegal. The DC ruling has been set aside while the full appeals court reconsiders the issue en banc. Comprehensive health care reform [JURIST backgrounder] was passed by Congress in March 2010 after over a year of debate, and recent legal challenges have reinvigorated debate. Last June the court ruled [JURIST report] in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that closely held corporations can deny contraceptive coverage to their employees for religious reasons. Two weeks after the Hobby Lobby decision, US Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill [JURIST report] to restore full contraception coverage for employees of closely held corporations.