AUGUSTA, Maine — Nearly 61,000 Maine residents will continue to receive help from the federal government to pay for their health insurance coverage after the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a key provision of President Barack Obama's landmark health care law.
The case in front of the nation's highest court centered on the legality of the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act for consumers in Maine and 33 other states who use the health exchange run the federal government. The court ruled that financial assistance is not limited to states that operate their own exchanges, preserving affordable health insurance for millions of Americans.
Subsidies cover about 70 percent of the monthly premium on average, so many people would no longer been have able to afford coverage if they had lost that assistance.
Among those breathing a sigh of relief on Thursday was Alyce Ornella, a 35-year-old new mother who lives in Harpswell. She said losing the subsidies would have been "catastrophic" because her baby who was born in February faces ongoing medical issues that have made having health insurance crucial.
"I'm just extremely grateful and happy for all the people, including myself, here in Maine who can't have health insurance without receiving a subsidy," Ornella said. She said she pays $168 a month for herself, her husband and her baby to be covered and receives several hundred dollars a month in assistance from the federal government.
Independent Sen. Angus King said Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree lauded the ruling and urged opponents to stop trying to dismantle and undermine the law.
"Today, more than 60,000 people in Maine and millions more across the country can breathe a sigh of relief that they still have access to the high-quality, affordable health insurance plans provided through the Affordable Care Act," King said.
Pingree said the shift needs to focus on improving the law and not "trying to take health care away for Americans."
The Kaiser Family Foundation said that 60,939 Mainers were receiving subsidies as of March 31. The average monthly subsidy in the state is $337 and premiums were expected to rise 383 percent if the tax credits were no longer available, according to the nonpartisan health policy research organization. Maine would have seen the fourth highest premium increases in the country.
Of the more than 10 million people who have signed up for health insurance under the Obama health overhaul, 8.7 million people are receiving a subsidy to help pay for their plans. More than 6 million of those people were at risk of losing that aid because they live in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges.