“Two-plus weeks have passed since the D.C. Circuit’s panel decision in Halbig v. Burwell and the Fourth Circuit’s opposite decision in King v. Burwell, a substantially identical case. The King plaintiffs have filed their cert petition; and the government has asked for rehearing en banc in the D.C. Circuit; and the initial agitation has subsided. It’s a fine time to highlight a few lessons that, in my estimation, we have already learned. I offer three sets of observations: today, I’ll focus on the interplay between constitutional and administrative law and on the advocacy network that produced Halbig and its companion cases; tomorrow, I’ll analyze the institutional pathologies and ideological derangements that account for the contretemps.
Constitutional and Other Law. To rehearse the wholly obvious, Halbig is the second frontal legal assault on Obamacare. The first (NFIB v. Sebelius) was directed at its “individual mandate,” and its provision that states refusing to participate in the Act’s Medicaid expansion would forfeit all Medicaid funding. These were high-toned constitutional attacks—the former, on the authority of Congress under the commerce and tax powers; the latter, on its spending authority. I don’t mean to dispute the urgency or righteousness of those lawsuits. They had to be brought, and quickly—even if the only point had been to proclaim that they can’t do this to us, at least not without a fight. Beyond that, NFIB served to demonstrate that constitutional arguments over enumerated powers still cut some ice.
The prevailing response to the Court’s narrow upholding of the mandate as a permissible exercise of the taxing power has been disappointment (or worse). At variance with many of my friends and colleagues, I believe that the Supreme Court’s decision actually produced a positive result on the enumerated powers front. Either way, though, even a full-scale win on the mandate question would have done little beyond turning Obamacare into the no-mandate care system that had been advocated by then-candidate Obama—and which the President has since implemented by waiving and postponing the oh-so-essential mandates for individuals and employers. In operational terms, and even for significant constitutional questions, the individual mandate itself has always been a side show.”
“Last week, the House of Representatives voted to authorize Speaker John Boehner to file a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s failure to fully implement Obamacare. Specifically, the lawsuit will challenge the administration’s delay of the employer mandate—requiring many employers to provide health insurance or pay a fine—that was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1. It’s clear President Obama repeatedly has abused executive power to circumvent Congress and essentially rewrite the law, but this lawsuit still raises a host of questions.”
“Most voters agree with Republicans in Congress that the president does not have the right to change laws without Congress’ approval, but they doubt a House lawsuit will stop him from acting on his own.
The House voted last week to sue President Obama for exceeding his constitutional authority by making changes in the new national health care law after it had been passed by Congress. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 22% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the president should be able to change a law passed by Congress if he thinks the change will make the law work better.
Sixty-three percent (63%) think any changes in a law should be approved first by Congress. Fifteen percent (15%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Forty-five percent (45%) favor the House’s decision to sue the president to stop some of his executive actions on the grounds that they exceed the powers given him by the Constitution. But just as many (44%) oppose the lawsuit. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.
However, only 30% think it is at least somewhat likely that the lawsuit, even if it is successful, will stop the president from taking executive actions on initiatives he has proposed that Congress refuses to go along with. Fifty-six percent (56%) consider this unlikely. This includes 11% who say the lawsuit is Very Likely to stop the president from acting alone and 21% who say it is Not At All Likely to work.”
“Court decisions can have huge policy implications. Because judges are not policy experts, statistical modelers or economists, and because these are inexact sciences anyway, the policy implications of judicial rulings may not be fully appreciated when they are made.
A good example is the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made Medicaid expansion optional for states. It’s hard to imagine that the justices had any idea that their decision would leave 4.8 million low-income people in a coverage gap without insurance in states that chose not to expand, or that 10 million slightly higher-income people would get tax credits to help them buy coverage in those same states. (Not that those things may, or should have, changed the justices’ conclusion.)
Now let’s consider Halbig v. Burwell, a case in which recent appeals court rulings made headlines. Halbig, which raises questions about whether the U.S. government can provide tax credits to people in federal- as well as state-run insurance exchanges, is still churning through the courts.
What if the plaintiffs prevail in Halbig, denying tax credits to moderate-income people in states with federal health insurance exchanges? The map below shows the potential combined effect of the 2012 Supreme Court decision and a plaintiffs’ victory in Halbig. (To be clear, the courts are not considering the earlier Medicaid ruling as part of Halbig, but the combined effect would be real.)”
“In an oped for Politico, I explain why ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber’s 2012 admissions that “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits” matter to the ongoing litigation over the Obama administration issuing those subsidies in federal Exchanges, and why Gruber’s attempts to explain his own words away are not credible. Shortly after submitting that piece, I learned Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt found Gruber’s remarks relevant enough to ask a federal court hearing one of those cases to take notice.
Gruber’s repeated remarks contradict the Obama administration’s legal argument, made in Halbig v. Burwell and three related lawsuits, that it is implausible that Congress would have conditioned those subsidies on states establishing Exchanges. His remarks likewise contradict the amicus briefs Gruber himself filed in two of those cases. (Here’s my response to those briefs.)”
“The recent decision of a three-judge panel in the Halbig case, if it prevails, would have a direct effect on the availability of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). People buying coverage on their own in insurance exchanges run by the federal government would be ineligible for income-based subsidies. Depending on how you count, that would take premium subsidies away from 4.6 million people in 34 states, or 4.7 million people in 36 states if you count New Mexico and Idaho (which have signaled their intention to operate their own exchanges but are still using the federal marketplace).
Many more people are eligible for subsidies but haven’t yet signed up. We estimate (using the approach described here that a total of 9.5 million uninsured people are eligible for subsidies in federal marketplace states (or, 9.7 million people if you include New Mexico and Idaho).
Since many low and moderate income people would have difficulty affording insurance without the subsidies, this would no doubt alter the extent to which the ACA is reducing the number of Americans who are uninsured, which recent surveys peg at about 8 to 10 million.
But, there would also be two important side effects of the Halbig case.”
“A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled against a challenge to Obamacare’s individual mandate based on the origination clause of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held in NFIB v. Sebelius (2012) that Obamacare’s individual mandate was constitutional because it was a tax. The Constitution also says tax legislation must originate in the House.
But the Obamacare individual mandate tax did not originate in the House. Senate Democrats took a House bill that provided tax credits to veterans purchasing new homes, gutted its language and “amended” it with the language that would become Obamacare.
Todd Gaziano, one of the lawyers for Matt Sissel, likened this amendment to “the complete destruction of a house and the erection of a massive skyscraper on the same street address.”
In a unanimous ruling in Tuesday’s case, Sissel v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the D.C. Circuit panel held that since the individual mandate’s purpose was to require people to buy health insurance, not to raise revenue, the law did not need to comply with the origination clause.”
Words mean what they say. That’s the basis for the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Halbig v. Burwell invalidating the Internal Revenue Service regulation approving subsidies for Obamacare consumers in states with federal health insurance exchanges.
The law passed by Congress, Judge Thomas Griffith explained, provided for subsidies in states with state-created exchanges, but not in states with federal exchanges. That’s factually correct, and under the Constitution, the government can’t spend money not authorized by Congress.
This has not prevented Democrats from calling the decision “judicial activism,” which makes as much sense as the claims that the Supreme Court decision overturning the Obamacare contraception mandate cuts off all access to contraception.
“We reach this conclusion,” wrote Judge Griffith, “with reluctance.” Judge Roger Ferguson, writing for the Fourth Circuit whose King v. Burwell decision upholding the IRS was announced the same day, wrote that those challenging the government “have the better of the statutory construction arguments.”
One has a certain sympathy with both judges. They’re being asked to overturn a regulation that has paid most of the cost for health insurance for some 4.7 million Americans. But the problem arose not from sloppy legislative draftsmanship.
Under previous court decisions, Congress can’t force state governments to administer federal laws. So congressional Democrats, seeking to muscle states into creating their own health insurance exchanges, chose to provide subsidies only for those states. Those opting for the federal exchange would have to explain to voters why they weren’t getting subsidies.
“The Obama administration signaled Thursday it’s not backing down from the controversial health law employer mandate that has been delayed twice and is the centerpiece of the House’s lawsuit against the president.
The IRS posted drafts of the forms that employers will have to fill out to comply with the Obamacare requirement that employers provide health insurance to workers.
Some business groups said the information was still too tentative and too incomplete to let them prepare for new obligations under the health law. “Our immense frustrations with the IRS continue,” Christine Pollack, vice president of Government Affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement.
An administration official said the White House is sticking to the timeline announced earlier this year. Companies with 50 to 99 employees will have another year — until 2016 — to start the coverage. Companies with 100 or more employees do have to comply next year, although they have two years to phase up so that they are covering 95 percent of their workers. Smaller businesses are exempt.”
“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.”