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Briefs: King v. Burwell ruling against subsidies would be 'devastating'

Four amicus briefs highlight importance of federal subisides, consequences should they disappear

Wording is everything. One word can change the meaning of a sentence or story entirely.

The Affordable Care Act includes the phrase, "through an exchange established by the State," regarding the circumstances in which consumers can acquire insurance with a federal subsidy.

In the upcoming King v. Burwell case, which the Supreme Court will hear March 4, the plaintiffs in the case focus on one word: Established. Specifically, they question whether Congress intended to allow consumers shopping on the federal exchange to use subsidies in addition to state-run marketplaces.

To avoid confusion--and the upcoming court ruling--could this phrase have been worded better?

"We didn't think there was a problem," Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) told The Hill. No one ever suggested there was a problem. The assumption was that these tax provisions would apply across the board. There's no problem."

The Supreme Court will take the entire law into account when it makes its decision. When the high court announced that it would hear the case, it adopted something known as 'the whole text canon of statutory interpretation,' Neal Katyal, former acting U.S. solicitor general, mentioned on a call with reporters Wednesday.

"If you look at that particular section, they are, indeed, federally created exchanges, but they operate within their own individual state," Neera Tandeen, president of the Center for American Progress, told reporters. "We should look at the context of the law. The bill flows very well together."

The call, hosted by SKDKnickerbocker, a political consulting firm in the District of Columbia, highlighted four amicus briefs filed Wednesday. Each speaker on the call represented one of the four briefs.

"The law is doing exactly what it intended to do: Make insurance affordable for everyone, in all states--meaning, whether states have their own marketplaces or whether they use the federal exchange. When Congress voted on the healthcare reform law, members assumed that subsidies would be available in all states," said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center.