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Supreme Court ruling means 41,000 Montanans to keep health insurance premium subsidies

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HELENA, Montana — The Supreme Court's decision Thursday to uphold tax credits for customers using the U.S. government's health insurance exchange means more than 41,000 Montana residents will continue to receive the subsidies that lower the cost of their premiums.

The Supreme Court disagreed with plaintiffs in a lawsuit that argued the language of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act limited subsidies to customers who sign up through exchanges established by the states. Montana is one of 34 states that use the federal online marketplace.

There were 49,140 Montana residents enrolled in health insurance plans purchased through Healthcare.gov as of March 31. Of that number, 41,766 — or 85 percent — were receiving subsidies. Those subsidies average $230 per month, or $2,760 per year.

Without the subsidies, the premiums for those people would have risen by an average of 198 percent, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Montana Legislature, led by a Republican majority critical of the health care law, rejected a state-run exchange in 2011.

Montana Democrats cheered the decision, including Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

"Forty thousand Montanans can now be sure they will not lose their health insurance or have their taxes increased in order to maintain coverage," Bullock said in a statement.

The Republicans in Montana's congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, responded to the Supreme Court decision by renewing their calls for repealing the Affordable Care Act.

"We all agree there will need to be some level of help for folks who face difficult situations, but Obamacare simply does not work for the vast majority," Zinke said.

Tester said dismantling the law without a plan to fix it would be reckless, and even a Republican leader in the Montana Legislature acknowledged that ending subsidies altogether would be a bad idea now that so many people are dependent on them.

"We have over 41,000 people to consider," Senate President Debby Barrett of Dillon said. "'No' might not be an option at this point."

Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen said the Supreme Court's decision gives insurance companies stable ground to continue doing business in the state.

"Now our companies can devote themselves to paying claims and covering Montanans without keeping a nervous eye on the Supreme Court," Lindeen said.

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