US & Canada

US Supreme Court to hear 'Obamacare' subsidies case

US Supreme Court in Washington DC, seen on 20 August 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The nine-member court will decide whether all Americans are eligible for subsidies or just those in states that have set up their own exchanges

The US Supreme Court will hear a second legal challenge to President Barack Obama's signature 2010 healthcare law, the court has said.

The court will determine whether the law allows health insurance subsidies to millions of Americans.

The challenge was brought by conservatives who argue that only states, not the federal government, can pay such subsidies.

Residents of 36 states rely on the federal government for the payments.

The sweeping healthcare reform law, the Affordable Care Act, established health insurance exchanges run by the federal government and by 16 states that provide subsidies to help Americans purchase insurance premiums.

In 2014, more than eight million people signed up for coverage on the exchanges.

The law's conservative opponents argue a close reading of the statute only allows subsidies to be paid by states that have their own healthcare exchanges, not by the federal government, which serves residents of states that have not established their own.

Currently, 36 states do not have exchanges of their own. Should the Supreme Court find in favour of the plaintiffs, more than five million people could find their insurance costs rise dramatically.

In July, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favour of the law's opponents, but later threw the ruling out so it could rehear the case.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in March, with a decision in June.

On Friday, the White House dismissed the lawsuit as a partisan attempt to undermine the law.

"These lawsuits won't stand in the way of the Affordable Care Act and the millions of Americans who can now afford health insurance because of it," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. "We are confident that the financial help afforded millions of Americans was the intent of the law and it is working as Congress designed."

The law, also known as Obamacare, passed with no Republican votes in 2010, and has been a focus of conservative outrage ever since.

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the central provision of the law requiring Americans to carry health insurance or pay a penalty, in a 5-4 decision.

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