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CAN SUPREME COURT BE FAIR IN HEALTH LAW CASE?

WASHINGTON — Many people in the United States doubt that the Supreme Court can rule fairly in the latest litigation jeopardizing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The Associated Press-GfK poll finds only 1 person in 10 is highly confident that the justices will rely on objective interpretations of the law rather than their personal opinions. Nearly half, 48 percent, are not confident of the court’s impartiality.

“That lawsuit should have never made it this far,” said Hal Lewis, a retiree from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“If they rule for the people who are bringing the suit, it could be close to the destruction of Obamacare in this country,” added Lewis, who once edited a local newspaper in his city.

Lewis is one of the relatively few people – 13 percent – who say they are closely following the case, called King v. Burwell.

Opponents of the law argue that as literally written, the law only allows the federal government to subsidize premiums in states that have set up their own insurance markets, also known as exchanges. Most states have not done so, relying instead on the federal HealthCare.gov website.

The Obama administration says opponents are misreading the Affordable Care Act by focusing on just a few words. When the legislation is read in context, it’s clear that lawmakers wanted to help uninsured people in every state, the administration maintains.

If the court sides with the plaintiffs, it’s estimated that 8 million to 9 million people across more than 30 states could lose coverage. They would be unable to afford their premiums without the subsidies, which are keyed to household income. A decision is expected late in June.

In a twist, the poll found that opponents of the law, who tend to be politically conservative, have less confidence in the objectivity of a court with a conservative majority. Among foes, 60 percent are not confident, compared with 44 percent of the law’s supporters.

“That is incredibly powerful that a court associated with conservative views is not well trusted by Republicans,” said Robert Blendon, who tracks public opinion on health care at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Blendon said the law’s opponents may be remembering the court’s 2012 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts cast the key vote to uphold the law.

Regardless of how the public feels about the court’s internal deliberations, a majority wants the justices to allow subsidies to continue flowing in all 50 states, an opinion in line with the administration’s position.

Fifty-six percent said the court should keep the subsidies without restriction, while 39 percent said the financial aid should be limited to residents of states that set up their own health insurance markets.

It’s less clear what people would want Congress to do if the court were to side with the law’s opponents. A ruling for the plaintiffs would invalidate health insurance subsidies in states without their own exchanges. Many of those states have Republican governors and legislatures that have resisted the health care law.

The poll found that a bare majority, 51 percent, wants Congress to amend the law to make it clear that people are entitled to help regardless of what their state leaders do.

But 44 percent prefer that Congress leave the law as is and let states decide whether they want to create insurance exchanges that would allow their residents to receive subsidies.

“It suggests there’s a political opening for Republicans to offer a way for people to continue receiving subsidies through some sort of state arrangement,” Blendon said.

State leaders would have to move fast. Some legal experts say it would be only weeks before the subsidies dry up; others say it’s possible the administration could continue payments through the end of this year.

Ethan Levesque of Augusta, Maine, said he is troubled by the federal law’s requirement that virtually all U.S. residents get health insurance or risk fines from the IRS.

“I feel like it should actually be the determination of the states to decide health coverage,” said Levesque, a customer service representative for a telecommunications company.

“There is definitely nothing wrong with health care whatsoever, but it’s the way that this has been presented to people that I have problems with,” he said.

The poll found sharp splits on whether Congress should intervene.

Two-thirds of Democrats think Congress should amend the law to save the subsidies, but only 31 percent of Republicans shared that view. Half of independents want Congress to update the law if necessary, while 41 percent think it should be kept as is.

Leading congressional Republicans have said they would step in to prevent health insurance markets from unraveling, but they have not spelled out details.

It is estimated that 15 million to 17 million adults have gained coverage since the fall of 2013, when the law’s big insurance expansion began. But the nation is divided over Obama’s major domestic policy achievement.

The poll found 27 percent of Americans support the law, while 38 percent oppose it and 34 percent say they neither support nor oppose it.