HELENA — For nearly 31,500 Montanans who bought subsidized health insurance on the new, online “marketplace” this year, Tuesday’s federal appeals court rulings on the issue won’t change anything for now, the state’s top insurance official said.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen, whose office regulates insurance, said the court cases have yet to work their way through the federal court system —“a long and arduous process.”
“We do not believe the thousands of working Montanans currently receiving (subsidies) to buy individual health insurance for them and their children are in any danger of losing those credits,” she said.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the state’s largest private health insurer, made a similar statement, saying it plans to proceed with “business as usual.”
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled Tuesday that federal subsidies are not allowed for policies bought on marketplaces run by the federal government.
Montana is one of 36 states with a federally run marketplace. Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature refused in 2011 to authorize a state-run marketplace.
Later on Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled the opposite way on a separate case, saying Congress clearly intended to have subsidies paid on policies bought on all marketplaces in all states, regardless of whether the state or federal government operated them.
Republicans in Montana seized on the initial ruling, saying it reveals, once again, that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is seriously flawed and should be repealed or struck down.
“It shows how the hasty implementation and backroom deals surrounding this law are once again leading to dire consequences and higher costs for the American people,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont. “This failed law needs to be repealed and replaced with common-sense reforms that lower costs and increase access for all Montanans.”
State Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, the leader of a Republican “working group” on health care reforms, said court challenges of the law stem from a lack of bipartisan and public support for the law.
“If you have a bipartisan bill dealing with something like this, so there is bipartisan support and the public in general supports it, then you don’t have this sort of litigation, because this stuff was sorted out ahead of time,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who voted for the Affordable Care Act, noted that 30,000 additional Montanans have gained coverage since major parts of the law took effect in January.
“I will continue to work to improve the law, but I’m not willing to go back to a broken system where thousands of Montanans couldn’t afford health insurance,” he said Tuesday.
The Obama administration said it will appeal the initial ruling.
In Montana, about 36,600 people have bought policies through the online marketplace since last Oct. 1, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
Of those, nearly 31,500, or 86 percent, received some sort of subsidy to help pay for their policy. The subsidies, which are paid directly to insurers, are available to most people earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $46,700 for a single person.
HHS also said that Montana families who qualified for the subsidy are paying an average of $99 a month for their health insurance policy.
Families USA, a national consumer group that supports the Affordable Care Act, said Tuesday the ruling striking down the subsidies in 36 states “most likely … will never go into effect.”
The decision likely will be overturned and represents “a high-water mark for Affordable Care Act opponents, but the water will recede very quickly,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of the group.