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Led by Cato Institute economist Michael Cannon, several opponents say the letter of the complex law precludes the government from subsidizing coverage through the federal exchange. They say the law allows only tax credits to help consumers pay premiums in state exchanges, not the federal exchange, and that’s the way Congress intended it. If states don’t set up exchanges, that would starve the health care overhaul of money and cause it to unravel, they contend.

But the IRS and two nonpartisan congressional units _ the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation _ conducted their own analyses and concluded that subsidies are available in both types of exchanges, federal and state-run. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., one of the law’s principal authors, says that’s exactly how Congress intended it.

At the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, spokesman Scott Holeman says, “At this time, we don’t have any reason to question the federal government’s interpretation of the statute.”

The dispute may wind up in court but probably wouldn’t get resolved until after the exchanges are up and running.