NBC News – Doctors groups and patients breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when the Supreme Court upheld one of the most important provisions of Obamacare: the federal subsidies.
"This was a good day for America," said President Barack Obama. "What we are not going to do is unravel what has already been woven into the fabric of America."
Republicans have challenged the 2010 Affordable Care Act in Congress, voting to repeal it more than 50 times, and taking it to the Supreme Court several times. The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down the latest challenge, however.
"We did dodge a bullet. In the short run if this had gone the other way, then millions of people would have lost health insurance," said Tal Gross, a health policy expert at Columbia University's school of public health.
"The American Medical Association (AMA) is relieved that today's Supreme Court decision will allow millions of patients to continue accessing the health care they need and deserve," added Dr. Steven Stack, president of the AMA.
"Physicians know that the uninsured live sicker and die younger so the AMA has been a leading voice in support of expanding health insurance access to ensure patients can get the care they require."
Six million people stood to lose hefty subsidies that helped pay for their health insurance if the court had ruled in favor of the four plaintiffs in the case, called King v. Burwell.
The challengers argued that the federal government could not legally pay subsidies to people buying health insurance in states that did not run their own health insurance exchanges.
Tony Tefeteller of Maryville, Tennessee, is one of the Americans who was waiting to learn if his subsidy would survive.
He heard the news Thursday morning while at work at a staffing company that offers bare-bones health insurance designed to cover dire emergencies only.
"It's a cross between insurance and no insurance," Tefeteller told NBC News, only half-joking.
Tennessee is one of the states that declined to set up a health insurance exchange for people to buy insurance, subsidized or otherwise, so Tefeteller bought his on the federal exchange.
"It's the best insurance I've ever had," he said.
He pays $99 a month, and the federal government pays the rest of the $250-a-month premium. It helps Tefeteller pay for a batch of prescriptions for his type-2 diabetes, as well as eye drops for glaucoma.
Without the subsidies, Tefeteller says, he would have had to rely on the catrastrophic-only policy and would have struggled to afford the medication that keeps him healthy.
"Millions of families across the country will breathe a big sigh of relief about today's decision," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the health consumer organization Families USA.
"The Affordable Care Act has provided coverage to 16 million Americans who did not have it before. They will now have the peace of mind knowing their health coverage will not be taken away, and they will continue to receive financial help to keep premiums affordable."
Experts estimate that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare, got health insurance to nearly 17 million Americans through the exchanges, expansion of Medicaid, and other ways.
"The federal premium subsidies will continue to reduce the cost of insurance for the millions of Americans who receive them and continue to improve access to health care," said Dr. John Noseworthy, CEO of Mayo Clinic.
A survey published Thursday
showed most Americans support the law's federal subsidies
But opponents of the law said they were not giving up.
"We are going to continue our efforts to do everything we can to put the American people back in charge of their health care and not the federal government," House Speaker John Boehner said.