The Supreme Court has agreed to take up Halbig v. Burwell, a case involving the Affordable Care Act's subsidies for individual health insurance, placing the lately-much-ignored law back into the spotlight just in time for Republicans to start trying to repeal it some more. The case involves an interpretation of one sentence in the law that could invalidate federal subsidies for residents in states that did not set up a health insurance exchange, effectively kicking about 5 million people off of their health insurance.
While one of the architects of the law has been getting a lot of ink lately, what about the potential demolisher of Obamacare's federal subsidies? Who is this Halbig person, anyway, and what's their deal?
Her name is Jaqueline Halbig, and although she's just one of many plaintiffs involved in this and other anti-Obamacare lawsuits, hers will be the name that goes down in history. Her deal is that she is trying to get out of providing health insurance to her employees at Sovereign Global Solutions, while also preventing the law from injuring those employees by allowing them to afford health insurance:
While most subsidies benefit recipients, the ACA’s subsidies actually serve to financially injure and restrict the economic choices of certain individuals. Some individuals would, but for their eligibility for federal subsidies, be exempt from the Act’s individual mandate penalty under an exemption applicable to low- or moderate-income individuals for whom insurance is “unaffordable.” For these people, the Subsidy Expansion Rule, by making insurance less “unaffordable,” subjects them to the individual mandate’s requirement to purchase costly, comprehensive health insurance that they otherwise would forgo.
Even Orwell would be proud of that one.
Ironically, Halbig used to work for the very agency whose head she is suing. Under President George W. Bush, she served as a communications director and senior policy analyst at the United States Department of Health and Human Services. But just so you don't think it's all about dollars and cents, there's also Jesus to consider. Her first position with the Bush administration (that Bush administration, anyway) was in the brand-new White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
That stint capped off a long string of jobs lobbying for the Lord at organizations like the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council. Here's Halbig in a 1997 C-Span appearance enthusiastically nodding in agreement with a caller who said that Jesse Helms "would love" her, and advocating a tax on movie theaters to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. Think Christine O'Donnell, without the witchcraft:
The FRC was named an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC in 2010, but back then, they were just busy obsessing over those filthy, filthy Mapplethorpe photos. Halbig was also an "Assistant to the Assistant" in the first George Bush administration's White House Counsel's Office. In short, she's just the kind of person to answer the question "Who would Jesus throw off of their insurance?"
The other litigants in these cases are equally committed conservative activists who are trying to use what is essentially a glorified typo in the Affordable Care Act to gut health insurance for millions of Americans, not humble, hard-working small businesspeople who just want to create some jobs, dagnabbit!
Luckily, their case is weak, and even if the Supreme Court sides with their interpretation of the law, the likely result will be that states will then have to decide if they want to “establish” exchanges by the end of the year (now that the federal exchanges are up, a stroke of the pen could satisfy that requirement), or collapse their own state’s entire health insurance market. No matter what Jaqueline Halbig does, it looks like she'll have to keep hurting her employees with health insurance, after all.