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Administration: No Quick Fix if Court Kills Health Subsidies



In this Nov. 17, 2014 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell speaks at Florida International University College of Law in Miami. Burwell says health law sign-ups are off to an encouraging start, but a lot of work is still needed to make the second open enrollment season a success. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

In this Nov. 17, 2014 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell speaks at Florida International University College of Law in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

ALAN FRAM, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s health secretary told Congress Tuesday that she has no administrative actions available to fix the “massive damage to our health care system” that would result should the Supreme Court invalidate federal subsidies that help millions of Americans buy health care coverage.

The letter from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell continued the administration’s tough stance in its building confrontation with Republican lawmakers in advance of an expected Supreme Court decision in June.

In that case, conservatives and Republicans argue that Obama’s 2010 health care law only provides government subsidies for people buying health coverage through marketplaces established by the states. Just 13 states established their own marketplaces, while the remaining 37 use the federal government’s HealthCare.gov.

A victory by the plaintiffs could mean that people who have enrolled this year for policies through HealthCare.gov could not get subsidies. More than 8 million have enrolled, and most would qualify for aid.

In her letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Burwell reiterated her warnings that a win for the plaintiffs would cause millions to lose health coverage because they could no longer afford it. That, in turn, would mean that disproportionately high numbers of sick, lower-earning people would continue buying health coverage, driving up health insurance costs for everyone else, she said.

“We know of no administrative actions that could, and therefore we have no plans that would, undo the massive damage to our health care system that would be caused by an adverse decision,” Burwell wrote.

For months, Burwell and other administration officials have angered GOP lawmakers by stating they have taken no steps in preparation for a Supreme Court victory by the plaintiffs.

“By admitting they have no contingency plan to assist the millions that may lose subsidies, the administration confirms how the misguided law is unworkable for the American people,” Hatch said in a written statement.

By the time the court rules, Hatch and other top congressional Republicans hope to have proposals ready to protect people who now rely on the subsidies while curbing other parts of the law.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., among those crafting a GOP response to the court case, said Burwell’s letter acknowledges that Obama “does not have the authority to use administrative actions to undo the decision.” Republicans have objected to past Obama administrative actions on subjects like immigration and global warming.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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