One of the looming questions of 2015 is this: Will the Supreme Court gut the Affordable Care Act subsidies in the three dozen states on the federal exchange, potentially depriving millions of health coverage at a moment when the law, now heading into its second year, is clearly working as intended?

As oral arguments in King v. Burwell this spring approach, one thing to watch is how many people are newly qualifying for subsidies in those states.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released a new report that suggests the number could be very large — which could (theoretically, at least) make it harder for the justices to gut the law.

As Margot Sanger-Katz reported for The New York Times, “(C)ustomers who were using to pick insurance plans — some new customers, and some renewing customers — were overwhelmingly likely to qualify for federal subsidies to help them pay their premiums. On average, the report found that 87 percent of these customers were eligible for subsidies, with higher percentages in some states — up to a high of 95 percent in Mississippi.”

And Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that “The big numbers of new enrollees are coming from states that are not running their own marketplaces, such as Florida and Texas, where the politics don’t seem amenable to them running their own marketplaces in the event of a Supreme Court ruling against the law.”

What this means: In states where the largest numbers of people might lose federal subsidies if the Supreme Court rules against the law, officials might be less likely to then set up their own exchanges to keep the subsidies flowing. Adds Levitt: “The impact of a potential Supreme Court decision against the law continues to grow.”

The reason this matters: Highlighting the potential for such a court decision to result in widespread disruptions and dire consequences — both for millions who might lose coverage and for the insurance and health-care industry in these states — may figure in the government’s strategy for winning the case. Now, it’s possible that Chief Justice John Roberts, the expected swing vote, won’t bother considering such potential in reaching his decision. But who knows — he just might. And the stakes continue to grow.

Greg Sargent writes The Washington Post’s The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant.

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