Obamacare: Intent vs. Nitpicking

Fun with Word Parsing

Politically minded people of all persuasions delight in parsing words, actions, you name it. Usually, the intent is to squeeze forth anything positive to their position or negative to the position of an opponent.

It’s no wonder, then, that a group of conservatives and libertarians closely scrutinized the Affordable Care Act top to bottom in support of their goal: kill it. They feel they found the knife in this simple phrase: “an Exchange established by the State.” While the phrase appears several places in the massive law, what’s pertinent is its relationship to subsidizing lower income people. That is, only people living in states with state exchanges quality for subsidies.

The issue is a bit more complicated than it appears. It’s contented that the law writers structured the restriction of subsidies in an effort to give states an incentive for setting up their own exchanges. It certainly sounds plausible and the Supremes have given it consideration. However, some news sources have investigated the issue (see the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/25/obamacare-lawsuit-paper-trail_n_6939624.html); they have uncovered no evidence feds discussed such an incentive with governors, at least not in the many documents they examined.

So, okay, the issue is more involved than the simple phrase we the public hear or read in the news: “an Exchange established by the State.” We are left believing everything hinges on the phrase in perfect isolation.

With that in mind, we thought, “Hey, let’s parse ‘State.’” Being simple non-lawyer types, we consulted the grand authority on the English language, The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Vol. XVI.  Here are the definitions of “State” and “the States.”

State: a. The body politic as organized for supreme civil rule and government; the political organization which is the basis of civil government (either generally and abstractly, or in a particular country; hence, the supreme civil power and government vested in a country or nation.”

State: c. One of a number of polities, each more or less sovereign and independent in regard to internal affairs, which together make up a supreme federal government; as in the United States of America or the Commonwealth of Australia.

With hierarchy and the isolated phrase “an Exchange established by the State” in mind, the law writers could only have meant the Federal government. In other words, we’ve reduced the dispute from a phrase to a single letter, “s.” If the law writers meant the states, they would have written “states.”

Too bad the Supreme Court has already made its decision and we only await the announcement. Perhaps our simple word parsing would have influenced them. Then, again, probably not. c/w

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