“The two contradictory appeals court decisions that cast the future of Obamacare into uncertainty Tuesday morning largely center on a question of intent: When the Affordable Care Act was conceived and drafted, did its creators mean to withhold health care subsidies from people living in states that refused to set up their own exchanges?.
This latest legal challenge focuses on four words in the mammoth law authorizing tax credits for individuals who buy insurance through exchanges “established by the States.” Thiry-six states declined to set up their own exchanges — far more than the law’s backers anticipated — and in those states, consumers have been shopping for health care on exchanges run instead by the federal government. Now the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that these consumers are not eligible for subsidies because, well, they bought their insurance on exchanges not “established by the States.”
This is a tremendously literal interpretation of a small but crucial part of the law, and it’s one that was arguably never intended by its creators. The plaintiffs in these challenges have argued that the ACA always meant to exclude noncooperative states from subsidies as a way of incentivizing those states to create their own exchanges. Supporters of the law — including the Obama Administration — counter that such intent would never have made any sense in the larger context of a law aiming to expand health insurance to as many people as possible.”
“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.”
“Gov. John Kitzhaber has defended his handling of the Cover Oregon debacle by noting that he engaged in “cleaning our own house,” including holding three officials “accountable” after the health insurance exchange website did not work.
But newly released records reveal that one of those three, Triz delaRosa of Cover Oregon, didn’t go quietly.
After Kitzhaber called for delaRosa, the exchange’s chief operating officer, to be fired on March 20, she warned the state she’d sue if she was fired, according to documents obtained under Oregon’s public records law. She laid blame for the exchange fiasco on Oregon Health Authority mismanagement, as well as Kitzhaber’s staff, for failing to confront problems Cover Oregon reported after taking over the project in May 2013.
As a result, delaRosa received a $67,714.90 settlement and continued drawing a salary through May 16. In return, she agreed to say nothing negative about the state.”
“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.”
“MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal judge on Monday dismissed a U.S. senator’s lawsuit challenging a requirement that congressional members and their staffs to obtain government-subsidized health insurance through small business exchanges, saying the senator had no grounds to sue.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, filed the lawsuit in January after the Office of Personnel Management decided months earlier that lawmakers and their staffs should continue to receive health care benefits covering about 75 percent of their premium costs after leaving the health insurance program for federal workers.
Johnson said the decision would make him decide which staff members must buy insurance through an exchange, potentially creating conflict in his office. He also said it forced him to participate in a program that he believed was illegal and that it could make voters view him negatively because his staff received health insurance subsidies the general public did not.
But U.S. District Judge William Griesbach said Johnson and a staff member who filed the lawsuit with him didn’t have grounds to bring the suit.”
“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 Affordable Care Act’s success meeting its initial enrollment goals and the repair of HealthCare.gov seem to have calmed the political waters for Obamacare. But the job of enrolling the uninsured gets harder, not easier, because the remaining uninsured will generally be tougher to reach.
Recent surveys show, roughly in line with expectations, that 8 million to 9.5 million fewer adults are uninsured compared with last year before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. Specific data are not yet available for uninsured children who probably got covered as well, and an earlier provision of the health-care law that allowed people to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26 is thought to have lowered the number of uninsured young adults by as many as 3 million.
But tens of millions of Americans are not yet covered.
Those who enrolled last year during the first open-enrollment season were more likely to want coverage and were best able to navigate the process to get it. After open enrollment this fall and the one after that, the uninsured will gradually become a smaller and different group. Increasingly, they will be people who have been without insurance for a long time or who have never had it; people who are even less familiar with insurance choices and components such as premiums and deductibles, as well as unfamiliar with the tax credits offered under the ACA. These people are more likely to be men, and minorities, and have limited education or language barriers. Increasingly they will fall into harder-to-reach high-risk groups, such as the homeless, who require very targeted outreach, and Hispanics who fear that seeking coverage could endanger undocumented relatives despite assurances from government that it will not.”