“Legal challenges to various aspects of Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act) keep traveling on a rollercoaster. Today’s episode of the law’s continuing courtroom soap opera involves a ruling by a federal district court in Oklahoma, which overturned a 2012 IRS rule authorizing premium assistance tax credits in federal exchanges (since rebranded as “federally facilitated marketplaces”). The decision improves the likelihood that the Supreme Court ultimately will consider this issue on appeal; either in the spring of 2015 or during its next 2015-2016 term.
Judge Ronald White ruled in State of Oklahoma v. Burwell that the IRS rule is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion not in accordance with law, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. section 706(2)(A), in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. section 706(2)(C), or otherwise is an invalid implementation of the ACA, and is hereby vacated.”
In other words, it was not just a “bad idea,” but an illegal one, too.”

“In a legal setback for the Obama administration, a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled Tuesday that people in states that rely on the federal insurance exchange are not eligible for Obamacare premium subsidies to help them pay for coverage.
Judge Ronald White, a George W. Bush appointee, invalidated an Internal Revenue Service rule interpreting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to allow the premium tax credits in states that have not established their own exchange. “The court holds that the IRS Rule is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law,” White wrote.
In his ruling, White rejected the argument that striking down the subsidies would cripple the entire healthcare reform law. “Congress is free to amend the ACA to provide for tax credits in both state and federal exchanges, if that is the legislative will,” he wrote.”

“The second Obamacare enrollment season could go negative — but not because of the health care law’s critics.
Obama administration allies are weighing a focus on the loathsome individual mandate and the penalties that millions of Americans could face if they don’t get covered. It would be a calculated approach to prompt sign-ups, a task that the law’s supporters expect to be more difficult, or at least more complex, than in its coverage’s inaugural year.
There are several challenges: The 2015 enrollment period is shorter, the most motivated Americans are probably already enrolled and the law is still politically unpopular. That means that even if HealthCare.gov works well — and it couldn’t be worse than last October’s meltdown — proponents are confronting a tough messaging landscape.”

“As we start the final stretch before the midterm elections, many analysts are convinced that Obamacare isn’t the hot political issue it once was. While the flood of negative publicity about the law has subsided of late, a majority of people still oppose it, according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls taken from Sept. 2-15. And I’ve always believed the voters’ negative impressions of the law were “baked” into their assessments of Democratic incumbents.
That’s partly why Democratic Senators such as Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska find themselves barely breaking 40 percent in recent public polls.
But a new study out this week from Bloomberg Government threatens to bring the Affordable Care Act back to center stage — and in a way that will likely hurt the electoral chances of incumbent Democrats, all of whom voted for the law.”

“Insurers Cigna and Blue Shield of California misled consumers about the size of their networks of doctors and hospitals, leaving enrollees frustrated and owing large bills, according to two lawsuits filed this week in Los Angeles.
“As a result, many patients were left without coverage in the course of treatment,” said Laura Antonini, staff attorney for Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group that filed the case.
Both cases allege that the insurers offered inadequate networks of doctors and hospitals and that the companies advertised lists of participating providers that were incorrect. Consumers learned their doctors were not, in fact, participating in the plans too late to switch to other insurers, the suits allege, and patients had to spend hours on customer service lines trying to get answers. Both cases seek class action status.”

“A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit over the delay of ObamaCare’s employer mandate, a sign that a similar challenge in the works by House Republicans might not fare well.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue, and only parties “seeking to advance the interests” of the mandate could mount a “plausible” case against its delay.”

“President Obama’s claim last spring that 8 million people had enrolled in ObamaCare recently got a significant downgrade from the head of the agency overseeing the plan.
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told a congressional committee that “as of August 15, this year, we have 7.3 million Americans enrolled in Health Insurance Marketplace coverage and these are individuals who paid their premiums.””

“Employer groups are ramping up their efforts to revise the ACA’s 30-hour full-time employee definition in hopes of getting it changed before the employer mandate kicks in for some large employers next year. The initiative, titled “More Time for Full-Time,” was announced Friday (Sept. 19) and is the latest tactic by employers to change the standard so that it defines a full-time employee as one who works 40 hours per week.
Groups involved in the initiative include the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Grocers Association and the International Franchise Association.
“As all Americans have known for decades, 40 hours represents the widely-accepted definition of a full-time work week. Unless there is a statutory change to the definition of a full-time employee in the ACA, there will be fewer full-time jobs, more part-time workers and fewer overall hours available for Americans to work,” International Franchise Association President and CEO Steve Caldeira said in a statement.”

“House Republicans on Friday replaced the firm handling their lawsuit against President Obama after the lawyer representing them pulled out over what was said to be political backlash among his colleagues at the firm, Baker Hostetler.
The lawyer, David B. Rivkin Jr., had taken the case on behalf of House Republicans in August, right after they voted to sue the president, accusing him of overstepping the powers of the presidency. Two people with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Rivkin withdrew from the case under pressure after facing criticism that he had taken on an overly partisan lawsuit. Some members of the firm feared the case against Mr. Obama could drive off potential clients and hurt Baker Hostetler’s credibility, according to one of the people with knowledge of the case. Both people said they were prohibited from publicly discussing such a delicate case.”

“Republicans have found a new opening against ObamaCare after struggling for months to craft a fresh strategy against a healthcare law that now covers millions of people.
Lifted by a pair of federal audits that found major flaws with the law’s implementation, Republicans see their first chance in months to launch a serious attack against the law.
“The news that we’ve seen over the last week and a half really emphasizes what conservatives and Republicans were trying to do last year, which was preventing a lot of this from happening,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for the conservative political group Heritage Action for America.
“What I hope happens is that the Republican Party as a whole says, ‘Yes, there is a reason besides politics that we’re fighting ObamaCare: It’s hurting people,’” Holler said.”