Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.
One of the most anticipated cases of the Supreme Court’s 2014-2015 term is King v. Burwell. In it, the Supreme Court is confronted with what should be a straightforward question of statutory interpretation about the scope of subsidies available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Section 1311 of the ACA states that “each state shall, not later than January 1, 2014, establish an American Health Benefit Exchange.” Another part of the law, section 1321, then qualifies that apparently absolute duty by providing that if the state does not “elect” to establish that exchange by January 1, 2014, or if it otherwise fails to meet the federal requirements for an exchange, “the Secretary [of HHS] shall . . . establish and operate such exchange within the state.”
The question of whether a state establishes this exchange determines far more than where individuals can buy their health care coverage. It also determines whether any purchaser of health insurance is entitled to a tax credit against his or her cost of coverage, as that subsidy is limited to taxpayers who are enrolled in a qualifying plan “through an Exchange established by the state” under Section 1311. Internal Revenue Service regulations interpreted the ACA requirement so that its tax subsidies were available to all individuals whether they enrolled in an exchange established by the state or by HHS when the state elected or failed to do so. The plaintiffs’ challenge to the regulation was in essence that the plain language of the ACA precluded the IRS from expanding the scope of the subsidy by this sleight of hand. King would have been an open-and-shut victory for the plaintiffs if the disputed interpretation had been some run-of-the-mill tax provision. But 36 states did not establish these exchanges because they wanted to guarantee their citizens the statutory tax breaks.
I haven’t commented much on the issues at play in the latest Obamacare case to reach the Supreme Court, mostly because there are so many lawyer-bloggers and health care pundits on the internet offering more informed takes than mine. But now duty calls, so here is my pundit’s view of things:
1) Having gone back and forth over the evidence presented, I’m not convinced by the plaintiffs’ argument that the people responsible for drafting for Obamacare consciously intended to limit subsidies in order to induce states to set up their own exchanges. The famous comments suggesting that they did, from Jonathan Gruber and others, make me suspect that this possibility floated somewhere in the Obamacare hive mind, and the much-discussed path that different versions of the bill took through the Senate allows room for the possibility that somebody involved with the process had that idea in mind, and that this person’s sense of how the law ought to work played some role in why the language that we have ended up in there. But the extent that we’re talking about the intent of the drafters as a collaborative group, my sense is that they’re telling the truth about having no such plan in mind, and thus that the text as we have it is the result of accident and oversight and blundering rather than design.
Chief Justice Roberts has said he likes mystery novels; once, as a lower-court judge, he invoked Sherlock Holmes’s “dog that didn’t bark.” But at the King v. Burwell arguments, Roberts himself was in effect the dog that didn’t bark, saying far less than expected and thus leaving reporters to puzzle over the mystery of how he might vote.
But the one question he did ask about statutory interpretation does merit particular notice, as the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes notes. It pertains to “Chevron deference” — the doctrine under which the Court generally should defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguously worded statute.
The Supreme Court justices had a lively discussion yesterday during arguments in King v. Burwell about who Congress intended to get health insurance subsidies and under what conditions.
The central question is whether the Internal Revenue Service had the authority to write a rule authorizing subsidies to go to millions of people in the 37 states now operating under federal exchanges.
The plaintiffs say the language of the law is clear: Subsidies are allowed in “an Exchange established by the State under [section] 1311of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” It doesn’t just say this once, but nine times in various linguistic forms.
The government argues that it is just a typo in legislative drafting: Congress clearly wanted subsidies to be available to citizens of all of the states, and the IRS therefore had the authority to write its rule authorizing subsidies in both federal and state exchanges.
Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell, a case with significant implications for the future of Obamacare. Most of the justices’ questions proceeded along expected lines. Most notable was a series of questions by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who questioned whether it would be constitutional for Obamacare to induce states to set up exchanges. If Kennedy’s fears are right—that federal subsidies for state-based exchanges are “coercive”—then he might side with the Obama administration in the case. But if you understand how Obamacare’s insurance markets work, it’s clear that Kennedy should side with Obama’s challengers.
By Heather R. Higgins and Hadley Heath Manning
The Supreme Court is set to hear another case, King v. Burwell, with important implications for Obamacare. The question is whether the IRS overstepped its authority in treating the federal exchanges like state exchanges and causing subsidies to flow — and the companion penalties and mandates to apply — to consumers, governments, and organizations in federal-exchange states, despite the clear text of the law.
In advance of the March 4th hearing, the Administration and allied organizations are painting a picture of calamity – they say six, then seven, now eight million people will lose their subsidies and thus risk losing their insurance coverage if the plaintiffs win.
The clear hope is to frighten the Justices away from reading the plain language of the law, undoing the IRS administrative fiat, and restoring the law as explicitly written and intended.
By our count at the Galen Institute, more than 49 significant changes already have been made to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: at least 30 that President Obama has made unilaterally, 17 that Congress has passed and the president has signed, and 2 by the Supreme Court.
By Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso
Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the Obama administration used the IRS to deliver health insurance subsidies to Americans in violation of the law. Millions of Americans may lose these subsidies if the court finds that the administration acted illegally. If that occurs, Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions.
When the court rules in King v. Burwell, we anticipate that it will hold the administration to the laws Congress passed, rather than the laws the administration wishes Congress had passed, and prohibit subsidies in states that opted not to set up their own exchanges, as the language in the law clearly states. Such a ruling could cause 6 million Americans to lose a subsidy they counted on, and for many the resulting insurance premiums would be unaffordable.
Republicans have a plan to create a bridge away from Obamacare.
First and most important: We would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period. It would be unfair to allow families to lose their coverage, particularly in the middle of the year.
The majority (52 percent) of Obamacare enrollees receiving an advance premium tax credit to purchase Obamacare insurance is facing the prospect of paying back $530 of that tax credit to the IRS, according to a new study from H&R Block. This clawback is reducing the refunds for these taxpayers by 17 percent this filing season.
Under Obamacare, taxpayers earning between 133 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive a tax credit to help purchase insurance on Obamacare exchanges. This tax credit is calculated using old tax data of the recipients. The credit is advanced ahead of time to the taxpayer’s insurance company. The taxpayer must reconcile at tax time the advance credit received with the actual credit she is eligible for.
As the SCOTUS oral arguments in King v. Burwell draw near, the cacophony from liberal outlets is nearly deafening. The plaintiffs’ position is “absurd ,” they cry. Congress “never contemplated withholding premium subsidies” in noncooperative states. Even the Obama administration argued that “it would have been perverse for Senators concerned about federalism to insist on pressuring States to participate in the implementation of a federal statute.”
Perverse? Jonathan Gruber (whose position on the issue is “complicated”) is equally disdainful, calling the challengers’ stance “nutty,” “stupid,” and a “screwy interpretation” of the law.
Really? Were Obamacare architects incapable of using “sticks” masquerading as “carrots” to coerce states into setting up Exchanges?