“The decision in the Halbig v. Burwell case this week was an unexpected legal boon to opponents of Obamacare. Spearheaded by the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and law professor Jonathan Adler, the case will almost certainly lead this debate about the text of the Affordable Care Act back to the Supreme Court. My colleague Sean Davis has written a comprehensive piece on the case, particularly on the nature of the supposed “drafting error” at its core.
But whatever the ultimate outcome for Halbig, the case serves as a reminder of the uneven ground on which Obama’s health care law is likely to be standing over the next two years. Whether facing challenges in the courts, or in implementation, as we saw in the GAO’s security report this week, or simply as a matter of political approval, Obamacare is going to be a subject of uncertainty in 2016, and its survival will depend on who wins the election, as I wrote here last month.
This raises an interesting question about how the presidential candidates will interact with the law. The law’s continued instability and problems will have to be answered – but the odd circumstance likely to result from the political frame of the issue is that Republicans will put forward a plan to replace Obamacare, but Democrats won’t.
One of the lazier memes of Democratic politicians and a few too many members of the media over the past several years has been the myth that Republicans have no alternative to Obamacare. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t pass even the most basic assessment of accuracy in reporting – here is a list of the health care reforms introduced by Republican House members in 2012, and here’s one for 2013. While their plans vary in scope, there are eight things Republicans generally agree about when it comes to health care reform:
•They want to end the tax bias in favor of employer-sponsored health insurance to create full portability, either through a tax credit, deductibility, or another method;
•They want to incentivize the reform of medical malpractice laws, likely through carrot incentives to the states;
•They want to allow for insurance purchases across state lines;
•They want to support state-level pre-existing condition pools;
•They want to fully block grant Medicaid;
•They want to shift Medicare to premium support;
•They want to speed up the FDA device and drug approval process; and
•They want to maximize the consumer driven health insurance model, making high deductible + health savings account plans larger and more attractive.”
“MIAMI (AP) — Linda Close was grateful to learn she qualified for a sizable subsidy to help pay for her health insurance under the new federal law. But in the process of signing up for a plan, Close said her HealthCare.gov account showed several different subsidy amounts, varying as much as $180 per month.
Close, a South Florida retail worker in her 60’s, said she got different amounts even though the personal information she entered remained the same. The Associated Press has reviewed Close’s various subsidy amounts and dates to verify the information, but she asked that her financial information and medical history not be published for privacy reasons.
“I am the kind of person the Affordable Care Act was written for: older, with a pre-existing (condition) and my previous plan was being cancelled. I need it and I’m low income,” said Close, who has spent more than six months appealing her case. “The government pledged to me that original tax credit amount. It’s crazy.”
“A lot of attention is being paid to the dueling decisions in two U.S. appeals courts about whether the U.S. government can provide tax credits to people in federal- as well as state-run insurance exchanges. In human terms, the stakes are high: Millions of moderate-income people will not be able to afford health coverage without a subsidy, and a court ruling could gut coverage expansion in the 36 states with federally run insurance exchanges, unless states decide to set up their own exchanges. One of the cases, Halbig v. Burwell, also adds uncertainty to the enrollment process set to begin this fall, when millions more people are expecting to get tax credits–and wondering if they may be taken away.
Amid the reaction, little attention has been paid to whether Americans will perceive Halbig as a legitimate legal question or as more inside-Washington politics. The plaintiffs paint this as a case about statutory language and intent. The health-care law said that tax credits would be provided only in state-run exchanges, they argue, and it is executive overreach to provide credits in federal exchanges. Proponents of the Affordable Care Act see this as a thinly veiled game of gotcha being played over imperfect legislative language despite clear legislative intent. They believe that providing tax credits in the exchanges was always a central element of the Affordable Care Act’s strategy to expand coverage whether in state or federal exchanges–and that everybody knows it.”
“This week, an unprecedented circuit split emerged in Halbig v. Burwell and King v. Burwell over whether health insurance premium assistance is available in states that didn’t set up health insurance exchanges. Many commentators have since claimed that there’s no way Congress intended to deny premium assistance to residents of the 36 so-called “refusenik” states that have not set up their own health insurance exchanges.
But in January 2012, Jonathan Gruber—an MIT economics professor whom the The New York Times has called “Mr. Mandate” for his pivotal role in helping the Obama administration and Congress draft the Affordable Care Act—told an audience at Noblis that:
What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits—but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges. But, you know, once again the politics can get ugly around this.”
“PORTLAND — Low-income Oregon residents were supposed to be big winners after the state expanded Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul and created a new system to improve the care they received.
However, an Associated Press review shows that an unexpected rush of enrollees has strained the capacity of the revamped network that was endorsed as a potential national model, locking out some patients, forcing others to wait months for medical appointments and prompting a spike in emergency room visits, which state officials had been actively seeking to avoid.
The problems come amid nationwide growing pains associated with the unprecedented restructuring of the U.S. health care system, and they show the effects of a widespread physician shortage on a state that has embraced Medicaid expansion.”
“For decades, the United States has had a fragmented health policy. States called the shots on major elements of how health care and health insurance were financed and regulated. The result: a hodgepodge of coverage and a wide variance in health.
The Affordable Care Act was intended to help standardize important parts of that system, by imposing some common rules across the entire country and by providing federal financing to help residents in all states afford insurance coverage. But a series of court rulings on the law could make the differences among the states bigger than ever.
The law was devised to pump federal dollars into poorer states, where lots of residents were uninsured. Many tended to be Republican-leaning. But the court rulings, if upheld, could leave only the richer, Democratic states with the federal dollars and broad insurance coverage. States that opted out of optional portions of the law could see little improvement in coverage and even economic damage.
“It will be essentially health reform for blue states,” said John Holahan, a health policy fellow at the Urban Institute, a research group.”
“WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress resumed their campaign against the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday with new zeal, fired up by a ruling of a federal appeals court panel that said premium subsidies paid to millions of Americans in 36 states were illegal.
Republicans pointed to the ruling as evidence of problems in the law that could not easily be solved.
“Time and time again,” said Representative Charles Boustany Jr., Republican of Louisiana, “the administration has chosen to ignore the law, and when it does implement the law, it does so incompetently.”
Mr. Boustany presided over a hearing of a House Ways and Means subcommittee on Wednesday. An official from the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, testified at the hearing that undercover agents had obtained insurance coverage and subsidies using fake documents and fictitious identities.”
“Today’s 2-1 decision by the DC Court of Appeals striking down federal premium subsidies, in at least the 27 states that opted for the feds to run their Obamacare insurance exchanges, has the potential to strike a devastating blow to the new health law.
The law says that individuals can get subsidies to buy health insurance in the states that set up insurance exchanges. That appears to exclude the states that do not set up exchanges––at least the 27 states that completely opted out of Obamacare. Another nine states set up partnership exchanges with the feds and the impact on those states is not clear.
The response by supporters of the law, and the IRS regulation that has enabled subsidies to be paid in the states not setting up exchanges, hinges on the argument that the language is at worst ambiguous and the Congress never intended to withhold the subsidies in the federal exchange states.
But in the DC Court ruling one of the majority judges said, “The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of the Congressional intent, but the statutory text does. Section 36B plainly makes subsidies only available only on Exchanges established by states.”
My own observation, having closely watched the original Obamacare Congressional debate, is that this issue never came up because about everybody believed about all of the states would establish their own exchange. I think it is fair to say about everyone also believed a few states would not establish their own exchanges. Smaller states, for example, might opt out because they just didn’t have the scale needed to make the program work. I don’t recall a single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who believed that if this happened those states would lose their subsidies.”
“Most working people in the U.S. sign up for health insurance in a very straightforward way: a few forms, a few questions for human resources, a few choices of plans.
Signing up for Affordable Care Act insurance was nothing like that. It involved questions about income, taxes, family size and immigration status. And in most places in the country, there were myriad choices of plans with subtle differences between them.
Guess what? People looked for help on the decision.
During the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period, about 10.6 million people received personal help from navigators and other enrollment assisters, according to an online survey of the programs released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
And the assistance was time consuming: 64 percent of the programs reported that they spent an hour to two hours with each consumer on average. The assisters and navigators included 28,000 full-time-equivalent workers across the country, funded by federal and state governments as well as outside sources, the survey found.”
“The essential health benefits (EHBs) countdown is on for 2016.
That’s when this provision of the Affordable Care Act, which sets out 10 specific health services that must be covered by plans sold on the exchanges, will likely be reviewed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Business interests and consumer advocates are already making their positions clear – the former pushing for greater consciousness of premium costs and the latter looking to safeguard consumers’ coverage.
During a July 21 Capitol Hill briefing, members of the Affordable Health Benefits Coalition, a business interest group including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation, said they would push to reshape essential benefits, arguing that current regulations have led to unaffordable hikes in insurance premiums.
Current policy requires plans cover emergency services, pre- and post-natal care, hospital and doctors’ services, and prescription drugs, among other things. The rule lets states decide how specifically to interpret those categories.”