Profs. Fuse Brown and Segall

Two Perspectives on King v. Burwell

Audience at King v. Burwell eventThe U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell has been characterized as drawing “6 million sighs of relief.” In a decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies to people purchasing health insurance operated by the federal government. On Sept. 10, the Georgia State Law’s Center for Law, Health & Society brought again together two professors to discuss the third Supreme Court case on a major provision of the ACA.

Erin C. Fuse Brown, assistant professor of law, opened with the health law perspective. “The Affordable Care Act creates a ‘three-legged stool to expand health coverage to millions of people,’” she said. “Three main components make the statute work; the health insurance nondiscrimination provisions, the individual mandate, and the tax subsidies. Like any three-legged stool, if you take one away the whole stool falls down. Without the tax subsidies, an ‘adverse selection death spiral’ would result.”

Fuse Brown compared King v. Burwell to the 2012 NFIB v. Seblius case. “The difference between the 2012 and the 2015 cases is that now people are receiving tangible benefits from the ACA,” she said. “Real, not theoretical, consequences, were at stake in King v. Burwell because of the behavioral psychology that once a person receives a benefit, it is more difficult politically to take the benefit away.”

Concluding, Fuse Brown expressed the implication on administrative law of Justice Roberts’ decision not to use the Chevron deference. “It is important because it gives certainty, cements the legacy of the ACA, and takes the issue of a subsequent administration coming up with a different interpretation of who is eligible for subsidies out of the 2016 presidential election,” she said.

Eric J. Segall, Kathy and Lawrence Ashe Professor of Law, followed with King v. Burwell’s implications from a constitutional law lens and what the case reveals about the Roberts’ Court. Segall emphasized both the textual and the political nature of the case. “Justice Roberts emphasized that reading the text of the ACA, on its face, shows that the plaintiffs should not win.”

Moreover, Segall stated that “Reasonable people could not disagree about this case as a matter of statutory interpretation,” and in addition “if the Supreme Court told 6 million people that they would lose their health insurance, they would blame the five Republicans on the bench. Roberts wanted to fight against the idea that the Court is a political institution while, perhaps ironically wanting to save the GOP from a Hobson’s choice.”

Together, the two panelists provided a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of King v. Burwell. “Regardless of one’s views of the Affordable Care Act, this case had such a grave impact on millions of people,” said Jessica Hobbs (J.D./M.S.H.A., ’16), vice president of mentorship for the Student Health Law Association. “Having the opportunity to hear the viewpoints and analysis of two experts was both enlightening and informational.”