Could King v. Burwell Save Democrats from Obamacare?

by Jim Geraghty

If you accept that . . .

A) Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act is an extraordinarily complicated, interlocking, jenga-tower-like piece of legislation that will not work if any significant part is removed, particularly the individual mandate or the subsidies for those purchasing on the federal exchange, and . . . 

B) President Obama will never, ever, ever allow Obamacare to be repealed, or for Republicans to repeal a portion that would lead to the collapse of the entire initiative, and . . . 

C) That certain Democrats are beginning to realize that Obamacare is a political albatross that will only worsen with time . . . ​

Will certain Democrats secretly hope that the Supreme Court rules in King v. Burwell that the text of the law only allows for subsidies on state-run exchanges, and that the IRS cannot allow subsidies on federal exchanges?

That decision would effectively destroy Obamacare. The consequences would be instant and severe, with millions of people losing their subsidies, determining that their insurance policies are now unaffordable, and canceling them. There’s an argument that eliminating the subsidies in states using the federal exchange would be a backdoor way of rescinding the individual mandate: “The mandate includes an exemption for people who can’t afford coverage, and without subsidies, millions more people would qualify for that exemption.” Insurers would have millions of canceled policies, with former customers who can’t afford a new policy. The consequences of unsubsidized Obamacare might be so bad that there could be bipartisan agreement to repeal the whole thing and start over.

If you’re a Democrat, this is a way to get rid of the political costs of Obamacare without ever having to admit that the law was badly conceived, written, implemented, administered, and so on.

A Democrat who privately thinks Obamacare has turned into a political deadweight for his party but doesn’t want to admit so publicly could even complain loudly about “runaway ultra-conservative judicial activism,” “right wing ideologues in black robes snatching away health insurance from the poor,” and so on. But Obamacare would be gone, and with it, the consequences for Democrats for their vote to pass unpopular legislation that canceled plans, raised premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and so on.

This would allow a lot of Democrats to turn back to their true preferred option, a single-payer system.

Of course, having experienced the mess of Obamacare, Americans are unlikely to yearn for a system with even more government control of the health-care system, and single-payer would go nowhere with a GOP-held U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. But it would put the Democrats back in their comfortable position of touting a hypothetical future plan of government-run health care making everyone happy, instead of defending the current status quo of government-mandated purchases of private health-insurance plans.

Maybe this will turn out to be Obamacare’s . . . “​death panel.”

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