The Supreme Court agreed today to hear a new challenge to President Barack Obama's health care law. The justices will decide whether the law authorizes subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their health insurance premiums. Opponents assert that most of the subsidies are illegal, and in the appeal accepted today they argued that the court should resolve the issue now because it involves billions of dollars in public money. How we got here: In July, a Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court upheld IRS regulations that allow health-insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for consumers in all 50 states.
On that same July day, a panel of appellate judges in Washington, DC, sided with the challengers in striking down the IRS regulations. But in October, the entire Washington appeals court voted to rehear the case and threw out the panel's ruling, eliminating the so-called circuit split. The court rarely steps into a case when there is no disagreement among federal appellate courts, unless a law or regulation has been ruled invalid. But at least four justices, needed to grant review, apparently agreed with the challengers that the issue is important enough to decide now. The appeals argument has been scheduled for Dec. 17, but that case now recedes in importance with the Supreme Court's action to step in. (Read more ObamaCare stories.)