Did Obama's lawyers mess up the Affordable Care Act?

A new paper from Health Matrix: Journal of Law-Medicine suggests that a missing word in the Affordable Care Act, the 2000-page law which created Obamacare, may scupper a key provision of the plan.

The Act brings into existence health insurance exchanges, federally- and state-run institutions which centralise and regulate the process of buying health insurance for people with enough income to not be eligible for Medicare. It also lays out who can get federal subsidies to buy insurance from those exchanges, the idea being that those subsidies will gradually encourage people to migrate from America's current system of employer-provided insurance to a saner system of individuals buying their own healthcare, which will hopefully lead to, among other things, fewer people dying as a direct result of losing their job.

Unfortunately, the authors of the article alledge that a drafting error by the administration's lawyers has rendered that aim unachievable. In the passage laying out who can get that crucial federal subsidy, Article 1401 the law restricts eligibility to those who "enrolled … through an Exchange established by the State under 1311." And Article 1311 defines an exchange as a "governmental agency or nonprofit entity that is established by a state."

Crucially, the definition of an exchange, for the purposes of the federal subsidy, seems to exclude federal exchanges.

The authors argue that this is on purpose, citing the words of the head of the Senate finance committee that "the bill conditions the availability of tax credits on each state creating its own Exchange". The Obama administration obviously believes the latter, with the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff arguing that:

There’s another part of Section 1401 — Section 1401(f)(3), to be exact — that requires both federal and state exchanges to report information about any credits being administered. Why would federal exchanges need to report that information, the thinking goes, if they were not administering credits?

If the difference in phrasing is a genuine mistake - a so-called "Scrivener's error" - then it will lead to a mildly embarrassing court case where that point is clarified, and that's that. But if the administrations lawyers actually did miss a clause inserted by one of the co-authors which fundamentally changes the meaning of the law, this one could run and run.

*Obama facepalm*. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Barcelona. Photo: Getty
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Barcelona van attack being treated as terrorism

The death toll has been raised from initial reports following the attack on Las Ramblas.

At least 13 people are dead and 50 injured after a van ploughed into pedestrians on a busy shopping street in Barcelona.

The white Fiat was deliberately targeting bystanders in the popular tourist area of Las Ramblas, according to witnesses. Police are treating the incident as terrorism and have arrested one man. Earlier reports of armed men in a cafe have not been corroborated.

The prime minister Theresa May has issued a statement saying that "the UK stands with Spain against terror". Other world leaders, including Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, have also voiced their support for Spain. 

The city's metro system was on lockdown, while terrified tourists hid in shops and restaurants. 

Van attacks have become an increasingly popular form of weapon for both far right and Islamist terror groups. On 12 August, a car ploughed into anti-Nazi protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia. Just three days earlier, a man rammed a vehicle into a group of soldiers in Paris. Last July, 86 people died after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a lorry into a crowd in Nice.