If court kills health care subsidies, most in poll want Congress to restore financial aid

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FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2014 file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, on a laptop screen, is seen in Portland, Ore. Some 9.5 million people have already signed up for 2015 coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law, and the administration is on track to surpass its nationwide enrollment target set last year. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)


WASHINGTON — Most Americans including significant numbers of Republicans would want lawmakers to restore federal aid for buying coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law if the Supreme Court annuls some of the subsidies, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Overall, the 2010 revamping of the nation's health care system remains broadly unpopular, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation's survey. The public disapproves of the law by 46 percent to 40 percent, with most Democrats supporting and Republicans in opposition.

But should the Supreme Court strike down subsidies for millions of people who buy coverage on the federal government's HealthCare.gov, people in the poll say lawmakers should fix it.

The finding suggests that a complex political landscape might await Republicans, who want to repeal and replace the law, should the court invalidate a crucial part of it later this year.

The court will hear arguments in March in the case, in which critics of Obama's law say the statute allows federal subsidies only in states that have established their own health insurance marketplaces, and not in states whose markets are run by Washington. The federal government runs the marketplace in 37 states.

A decision is expected in June.

People's views of the federal subsidies could change over time because few in the poll — just 14 percent — said they know a lot or something about the Supreme Court case.

But in the Kaiser survey, 64 percent said if the court rules that subsidies should be available only in states running their own markets, Congress should make people in all states eligible for federal aid. Those favoring congressional action included 82 percent of Democrats, 40 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of independents.

In addition, 59 percent of those in states whose markets are federally run said their state should create its own marketplace if the court invalidates subsidies there. People holding that view included just over 6 in 10 Democrats and independents and about half of Republicans.

Should the court strike down the subsidies, Obama and Congress would have to decide how to respond.

Hoping to ramp up pressure on the administration, House Republicans wrote Wednesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell that the court decision could have "a profound impact" and asked her to detail federal preparations for a ruling.

Burwell has sidestepped such questions in the past, while expressing confidence that the administration's position will be upheld. Congressional leaders have not decided what they would do, but groups of top lawmakers in both the House and Senate have started considering options.

Democrats say a reading of the entire law makes plain that the authors meant people in all states should qualify for the subsidies.

"We don't think there's anything that needs to be fixed," Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said Wednesday.

Across the country, 9.5 million people have so far signed up for 2015 coverage under the law.

Of those, 7.1 million are in states whose markets use HealthCare.gov and could be affected by the Supreme Court's ruling. And of that group, most are low- and moderate-income people who stand to lose subsidies.

The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was conducted Jan. 15-21 and involved cell and landline interviews with 1,503 randomly chosen adults. Its overall margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.


Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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