S.C. attorney finds 4 words that could topple Obamacare

Tom Christina, the man whose close reading of the Affordable Care Act may now bring the law crashing down, says he is neither fan nor foe of Obamacare.

But in 2010 the Greenville, S.C., attorney brought to light four words in the more than 900-page Affordable Care Act that could destroy one of the pillars of the law. Those words — “established by the state” — have become the crux of a Supreme Court battle that could rip health insurance away from millions of Americans.

The case to be presented before the high court Wednesday, King v. Burwell, asserts that those four words mean that most consumers may not legally receive tax credits called for by the ACA. Those credits are a key provision of the law, helping to make coverage affordable for millions of Americans.

Christina, an employee benefits lawyer in Greenville who was a deputy assistant attorney general during the Reagan administration, pored over the ACA bill before it became law, hoping to understand its intricacies.

He did not “go digging” for something to challenge the law, he said. But at a meeting of the American Enterprise Institute in December 2010, he mentioned the part of the law that is now in the spotlight, raising questions about what it might mean.

“There is so much in the Affordable Care Act that I think there’s scarcely anyone approves or disapproves of it all,” Christina said Tuesday.

While Christina filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs — “they have the better legal argument,” the Harvard- and Cornell-educated lawyer said — he agrees with certain parts of the law.

“For example, the ability to cover children until they were age 26 made sense,” he said.

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This article was done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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