Protecting Health Care

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced earlier this month that he had asked the federal government to allow the state to take over its health care exchange.  Wolf made the request in an effort to protect Pennsylvanians’ ability to continue to receive federal subsidies toward purchasing health insurance, should the Supreme Court gut the Affordable Care Act.

If Wolf’s move is to succeed, the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania state legislature would also have to approve a state-run, rather than the current federally-administered, exchange.  That approval might or might not be forthcoming.  A spokesman for the Pennsylvania House Republicans recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “There is no reason to deal with it right now.”

One might reasonably interpret that statement as meaning: Let’s wait to see how the Supreme Court rules on Obamacare.  If SCOTUS upholds the law, the whole question becomes moot.  If it overturns the statute, we’ll have to decide how much political risk we’re willing to take on.  Challengers to Obamacare maintain that current federal subsidies for health insurance in 37 states are invalid, simply because the wording of the statute describes such subsidies as being intended only for exchanges established by the State.  Should the Supreme Court uphold that interpretation, about 382,000 Pennsylvanians might lose all or part of the federal subsidies that finance their health care.

What political consequences might Pennsylvania Republicans then face?  This is the state whose Republican Party chair once said Voter ID, “which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania - done!” which was followed by President Obama’s carrying the state in 2012 by a margin of 52% to 47%.  It’s not unrealistic to think that Pennsylvania state lawmakers will bear that, and their own future electability, in mind, should SCOTUS overturn Obamacare.  They very well might back Governor Wolfe on this one.

They’re even more likely to do so if they’re urged to take that stance by their constituents.