As Supreme Court Begins Trial on Obamacare, White House Says It Has No Plan B If Law Is Struck Down

A woman choosing a health plan in Iowa, one of the states where subsidies could be eliminated by a Supreme Court ruling. (Credit: Andrew Dickinson for The New York Times)
A woman choosing a health plan in Iowa, one of the states where subsidies could be eliminated by a Supreme Court ruling. (Credit: Andrew Dickinson for The New York Times)

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on Wednesday on whether to invalidate a crucial part of the president’s health care law, Obama administration officials say they are doing nothing to prepare for what could be a catastrophic defeat.

Administration officials insist that any steps they could take to prepare for the potential crisis would be politically unworkable and ineffective, and that pursuing them would wrongly signal to the justices that reasonable solutions existed. The do-nothing strategy is meant to reinforce for the court what White House officials believe: that a loss in the health care case would be unavoidably disastrous for millions of people.

There are no contingency plans in place if the court invalidates the Affordable Care Act subsidies that 7.5 million people in 34 states are receiving, administration officials said. No one is strategizing with governors or insurance company executives or lawmakers. There is no public relations plan to reassure people who might suddenly have to pay more for insurance.

If the court rejects the subsidies — a decision unlikely to arrive until the end of the session in late June or early July — health experts said premiums could triple within weeks, causing millions of people to lose coverage. That could quickly lead to a collapse of the health insurance markets in two-thirds of the country.

“If they rule against us, we’ll have to take a look at what our options are. But I’m not going to anticipate that,” President Obama said Monday in an interview with Reuters. “I’m not going to anticipate bad law.”

The strategy echoes the administration’s refusal through most of 2012 to acknowledge any planning for the effect of across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, insisting that the draconian cuts would never come to pass. (They did.) Also in 2012, the White House and its allies said there were no plans for the Supreme Court ruling on a challenge to the health law’s individual mandate. (The court upheld the mandate.)

In the current health care case, legal experts said the White House was savvy in making clear that the situation was dire. They said the justices regularly considered the broader effect of their decisions and often took into account how the executive branch or Congress might respond to a ruling.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, a law professor at Stanford University, said the justices are likely to talk about the administration’s lack of contingency plans when they meet behind closed doors on Friday for their first conference after hearing arguments.

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SOURCE: MICHAEL D. SHEAR
The New York Times

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