Herring helps defend access to healthcare affordability tax credits

mark herringToday, in unanimously affirming the lower court’s decision in King v. Sebelius, now King v. Burwell, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s position that Virginians are eligible for financial assistance to help them afford insurance purchased through the federally-operated exchange. Because of this ruling, at least 177,000 Virginians will keep an annual average of $3,048 in financial assistance they are already receiving. Attorney General Herring filed an amicus brief in the case and Virginia delivered oral argument defending the right of low- and moderate-income Virginians to access thousands of dollars in assistance to make healthcare coverage more affordable.

“If our tax dollars are helping working families afford healthcare then I will fight to make sure that working families in Virginia have equal access to that assistance,” said Attorney General Herring. “Today’s ruling is welcome news for 177,000 Virginians who have already purchased a plan and received financial assistance, and for those who may purchase healthcare through the exchange in the future. I’m glad the Fourth Circuit was not convinced by the specious arguments of the plaintiffs, which were based on strident opposition to anything related to the Affordable Care Act.”

Of the more than 216,000 Virginians who have already purchased plans on the exchanges, 117,000 are women, approximately 82% have received financial assistance, and an additional 36,500 Virginians have enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP.) HHS estimates that up to 495,000 Virginians may be eligible for some level of assistance,totaling up to $1.02 billion annually.

The plaintiffs in this case had claimed that only people who purchase plans through state-operated health insurance exchanges are eligible for premium assistance. As the Commonwealth’s brief pointed out, that claim relied on a narrow interpretation that did not reflect the context, history, or intent of the legislation. Their interpretation would have made otherwise qualified Virginians ineligible for tax credits because Virginians purchase healthcare through the federally-operated exchange.

At the district level, former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had previously filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs’ position, which was rejected by two district courts and the 4th Circuit. Earlier today, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reached a contradictory conclusion in a substantively similar case, Halbig v. Burwell.

The Commonwealth’s amicus brief is available here.

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