MONTGOMERY, Alabama — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that means 132,000 Alabamians will keep subsidies to buy health insurance brought both relief and condemnation Thursday from leaders on opposite sides of the debate over the law.
Justices in a 6-3 decision ruled that subsidies can continue in states like Alabama that did not establish their own insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
"We are thrilled with the decision. It was a real nail-biter over the last few weeks," said Jim Carnes, policy director for Alabama Arise, an advocacy group for low-income families.
Carnes said an estimated 170,000 Alabamians have enrolled in health coverage through the federal exchange and 132,000 Alabamians of those have gotten subsidies.
Alabama is one of 34 states where consumers use the federal exchange to shop for insurance because the state did not set up its own health care exchange.
Gov. Robert Bentley, a frequent critic of the Affordable Care Act, said he was disappointed.
"The Supreme Court had an opportunity to repair what I, as a physician, have always believed, that the Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed and does little to help improve the health of our citizens," Bentley said.
The subsidies are given to people who earn between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level to help buy insurance.
The law offers money to states which expand Medicaid to help bring health coverage to adults who are too poor to qualify for subsidies, but Bentley has declined to enlarge the state program.
Carnes said he hoped the Supreme Court ruling would "give momentum" for Medicaid expansion by eliminating doubts over whether the law would remain in place.
"More and more around the country leaders in red states are recognizing that the coverage gap is unacceptable," Carnes said.
Bentley has previously said he could be open to some sort of expansion if the federal government allowed the state to use the money to buy private insurance and put work requirements on recipients, a requirement that has been rejected when other states proposed it.