“Two U.S. Appeals Courts Tuesday reached opposite conclusions about the legality of subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, a key part of the law that brings down the cost of coverage for millions of Americans.
In Washington, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Internal Revenue Service lacked the authority to allow subsidies to be provided in exchanges not run by the states.
That 2-1 ruling in Halbig v. Burwell could put at risk the millions of people who bought insurance in the 36 states where these online insurance marketplaces are run by the federal government. Judge Thomas Griffith, writing the majority opinion, said they concluded “that the ACA unambiguously restricts” the subsidies to “Exchanges ‘established by the state.’ ”
But within hours, a unanimous three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., ruled exactly the other way in King v. Burwell – that Congress always intended to allow subsidies to be provided in both state and federally run exchanges.
“It is therefore clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act’s primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill,” said the decision written by Judge Roger Gregory.
The Obama administration said it will appeal the Halbig decision. The Justice Department will ask the entire appeals court panel to review it, and that panel is dominated by judges appointed by Democrats, 7-4.”
“The Halbig case could destroy Obamacare . But it won’t. The Supreme Court simply isn’t going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people in order to teach Congress a lesson about grammar.
As Adrianna McIntyre explains, the Halbig case holds that Obamacare’s subsidies are illegal in the 36 states where the federal government runs (or partly runs) the exchange. The plaintiffs rely on an unclearly worded sentence in the law to argue that Congress never intended to provide subsidies in federally-run exchanges and so the subsidies that are currently being provided in those 36 states are illegal and need to stop immediately.
The point of Obamacare is to subsidize insurance for those who can’t afford it
This is plainly ridiculous. The point of Obamacare is to subsidize insurance for those who can’t afford it. The point of the federal exchanges is to make sure the law works even in states that can’t or won’t set up an exchange.
For Congress to write a law that provides for federal exchanges but doesn’t permit money to flow through them would have been like Congress writing a transportation law that builds federal highways but doesn’t allow cars, bikes or buses to travel on them.”
“We now have two federal appeals courts that have issued conflicting rulings on a major provision of the Affordable Care Act. Those decisions are not the final word on whether residents of some states will be able to continue receiving financial assistance to buy health insurance. Here are some possible next steps:”
“The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the rule of law in its decision that the health law does not allow tax subsidies to be distributed through the federal government’s health insurance exchange.
The Obama administration’s Internal Revenue Service issued regulations in 2012 authorizing the flow of funds after two-thirds of the states opted not to create their own exchanges, thereby defaulting to the federal exchange.
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled that the law plainly states that tax credits to subsidize health insurance are to be available only through an “Exchange established by the State.”
Shortly after the DC Circuit decision was announced, the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a separate case that the law’s language does allow the subsidies to be distributed through the federal exchanges.
This sets up a very likely Supreme Court challenge.”
“One message came through loud and clear at today’s meeting of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange’s Operations Committee: It may not be time to panic about the health exchange’s problem-riddled invoicing and payments system, but it is time to sound the alarm and get all hands on deck.
“We are really out of rope on this one,” Chief of Staff Pam MacEwan told the committee. “We need this to be fixed a while ago. We don’t have the patience of the public or the carriers on this anymore.”
Software problems have prevented payments for up to 6,000 consumer accounts from posting properly and being reported to insurers, resulting in some consumers being told they don’t have coverage.
Beth Walter, operations director, noted the exchange had received a commitment from Deloitte, the exchange’s primary contractor, to “engage additional resources on their side.”
“What does that mean?” asked a committee member.
“More people,” Walter replied.”
“A federal appeals court panel in the District struck down a major part of the 2010 health-care law Tuesday, ruling that the tax subsidies that are central to the program may not be provided in at least half of the states.
The ruling, if upheld, could potentially be more damaging to the law than last month’s Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who argued that the language of the law barred the government from giving subsidies to people in states that chose not to set up their own insurance marketplaces. Twenty-seven states, most with Republican leaders who oppose the law, decided against setting up marketplaces, and another nine states partially opted out.
The government could request an “en banc” hearing, putting the case before the entire appeals court, and the question ultimately may end up at the Supreme Court. But if subsidies for half the states are barred, it represents a potentially crippling blow to the health-care law, which relies on the subsidies to make insurance affordable for millions of low- and middle-income Americans.”
“The nation’s largest health insurer expects to play a much bigger role in the health care overhaul next year, as the federal law shifts from raising giant questions for the sector to offering growth opportunities.
UnitedHealth Group said Thursday that it will participate in as many as 24 of the law’s individual health insurance exchanges in 2015, up from only four this year.
These state-based exchanges debuted last fall as a way for customers to buy individual health insurance, many with help from income-based tax credits. They played a key role in helping roughly 8 million people gain coverage for 2014.
But UnitedHealth and other insurers approached them cautiously, in part because they had little information about the health of the people who would sign up. That uncertainty was compounded by a provision in the overhaul that prevents them from rejecting applicants based on health.
Now, some of that uncertainty is starting to dissipate, which gives insurers ‘‘a little more confidence to try to tap into some of the opportunities,’’ said Jennifer Lynch, an analyst who covers the sector for BMO Capital Markets.”
“The White House needs to make a decision soon on whether ObamaCare’s controversial employer mandate will take effect in 2015.
With the mandate set to take effect in January, businesses are awaiting final word from the administration on whether they will be required to track and report how many of their employees are receiving coverage.
Federal officials are late in delivering the final forms and technical guidance necessary for firms to comply, raising suspicions the mandate could once again be delayed.
The mandate has been pushed back twice before, the first time in late summer.
The delays to the mandate have angered House Republicans, who are now taking President Obama to court for what they say is his refusal to follow the letter of the law.”
“UnitedHealthcare, the insurance giant that largely sat out the health law’s online marketplaces’ first year, said Thursday it may sell policies through the exchanges in nearly half the states next year.
“We plan to grow next year as we expand our offering to as many as two dozen state exchanges,” Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the insurance company’s parent, told investment analysts on a conference call. He was referring to coverage sold to individuals.
The move represents a major acceleration for the company and a bet that government-subsidized insurance, sold online without regard for pre-existing illness, is here to stay. UnitedHealthcare sells individual policies through government exchanges in only four states now.
Even analysts who follow the company closely seemed surprised.
“You’re making a really big move,” Kevin Fischbeck, an analyst for Bank of America, told the company’s executives. “You’re going to do a couple dozen states. You’ve really moved in. What’s giving you the confidence … that it’s going to be stable next year?”
The answer, the bosses said, is that the marketplaces look sustainable, even without some of the reinsurance and risk-spreading backstops put in place for carriers in the first few years. They know the prices now, they said. They know the regulations. They know how consumers are behaving.”
“Primary care doctors have reported problems making referrals for patients who have purchased some of the cheaper plans from the federal insurance marketplace. Complaints about narrow networks with too few doctors have attracted the attention of federal regulators and have even prompted lawsuits.
But they’re also causing headaches in the day-to-day work of doctors and clinics. “The biggest problem we’ve run into is figuring out what specialists take a lot of these plans,” said Dr. Charu Sawhney of Houston.
Sawhney is an internist at the Hope Clinic, a federally qualified health center in southwest Houston, in the bustling heart of the Asian immigrant community. Her patients speak 14 different languages, and many of them are immigrants or refugees from places as far flung as Burma and Bhutan. Most of her patients are uninsured, which means she is familiar with problems of access.
But the limited options of some of the HMOs sold on the marketplace surprised even her.
“I was so consumed with just getting people to sign up,” she said, “I didn’t take the next step to say ‘Oh by the way, when you sign up, make sure you sign up for the right plan.’”
Understandably, a lot of Sawhney’s patients picked lower-cost plans, “and we’re running into problems with coverage in the same way we were when they were uninsured.””