“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.”
“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.”
“Anger over limited choice of doctors and hospitals in Obamacare plans is prompting some states to require broader networks — and boiling up as yet another election year headache for the health law.
Americans for Prosperity is hitting on these “narrow networks” against Democrats such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, whose GOP opponent Scott Brown has made the health law a centerpiece of his campaign to unseat her. And Republicans have highlighted access challenges as another broken promise from a president who assured Americans they could keep their doctor.
It’s not just a political problem. It’s a policy conundrum. Narrow networks help contain health care costs. If state or federal regulators — or politicians — force insurers to expand the range of providers, premiums could spike. And that could create a whole new wave of political and affordability problems that can shape perceptions of Obamacare.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Medicare spending growth will be slow again in 2014 relative to historical standards, and some of the usual suspects are now crediting the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — for the good news. For instance, a recent post at Vox suggests that the slowdown in Medicare spending can be attributed, in part, to the ACA’s provision penalizing hospitals for excessive readmissions of previously treated patients.
This is nonsense.
At the time of the ACA’s enactment in March 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the readmission provision would reduce Medicare spending by $0.3 billion in 2014, and only $7.1 billion over a decade. That’s about one tenth of 1 percent of total Medicare spending over that time period. There has been no information from any source since 2010 suggesting that the savings from the readmission provision has escalated into a major cost-cutting reform. In the context of overall Medicare spending, the readmissions provision is simply inconsequential.
The same can be said for the other supposed “delivery system” reforms driven through Medicare and contained in the ACA, such as Accountable Care Organizations and efforts to promote more “bundled” payments to providers of services. These reforms were all assessed by the CBO at the time of enactment and found to be insignificant items in budgetary terms. Moreover, the early experience with these changes indicates they are unlikely to dramatically alter the way health care is delivered to Medicare patients.”