WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department asked a full federal appeals court Friday to take up a case that has endangered subsidies helping millions of low- and middle-income people to afford their health care premiums under Obamacare.
Last week, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said financial aid can be provided only in states that have set up their own insurance markets, or exchanges.
Two judges nominated by Republican presidents formed the majority over a dissent from a Democratic appointee.
In an appeals court filing Friday, the Justice Department said that if last week's ruling is ultimately sustained, the decision will impose a severe hardship on millions of people who are receiving tax credits through federally facilitated exchanges.
The Justice Department said the disruption threatened by the panel majority's "erroneous interpretation" presents a question of exceptional importance warranting consideration by the full court. A majority would have to agree to the Justice Department's request.
The department also noted that a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously came to the opposite conclusion last week, ruling that the Internal Revenue Service correctly interpreted the will of Congress when it issued regulations allowing health insurance tax credits for consumers in all 50 states.
On Friday, the Justice Department asked all the judges on the Washington court to consider the case.
If the full court does so, the balance would shift - with eight Democratic nominees and five Republican nominees hearing the case.
There are 11 judges on the appeals court. Two judges on the case last week are judges with senior status and would sit with the full court. One was nominated by a Republican president and the other by a Democratic president.