Take it to the Supreme Court

When is a “state” not a “state”?

When it is a word used to describe health care tax credits in the Obamacare law, which remains ambiguous depending upon which side of the political aisle one’s judge occupies.

Within hours of each other, two appeals courts issued opposing rulings on the abilities of the Affordable Care Act to subsidize coverage in states where no state insurance marketplace is operating. The question is if Congress intended to provide subsidies for the federal health exchanges, too. Given that many members of Congress hadn’t read the entire 1,200-page monstrosity, it comes as no surprise that the law continues to be sorted out in the courts, with decisions hinging upon the “intent of Congress.”

One ruling, by three judges of the D.C. appellate court, said the health care subsidies are only available in states with state-run exchanges, clearly spelled out in the law by the words “established by the state.” The Obama administration may appeal that decision to the full D.C. federal bench, which is dominated by judges appointed by Democrats.

In another ruling, in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., judges ruled that the issue is one of congressional intent to make health care affordable to all, thus interpreting the word “state” is not important in relation to the intent.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Andre Davis said the argument is akin to asking for a ham and pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut but receiving one from a friend who went to Domino’s. Both still are pepperoni and ham pizzas and fill the bill.

Which might make sense if state’s rights weighed against federal powers were as easy to determine as the origin of a pizza.

We think this case should end up as one more interpretation of Obamacare by the highest court in the land, requiring the nine Supreme Court justices to weigh in to decide if a president’s keystone policy outweighs the rights of the states to determine how to spend their money.