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.
“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subsidy amounts and dates to verify the information, but she asked that her financial information and medical history not be published for privacy reasons.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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“We now have two federal appeals courts that have issued conflicting rulings on a major provision of the Affordable Care Act. Those decisions are not the final word on whether residents of some states will be able to continue receiving financial assistance to buy health insurance. Here are some possible next steps:”
“The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the rule of law in its decision that the health law does not allow tax subsidies to be distributed through the federal government’s health insurance exchange.
The Obama administration’s Internal Revenue Service issued regulations in 2012 authorizing the flow of funds after two-thirds of the states opted not to create their own exchanges, thereby defaulting to the federal exchange.
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled that the law plainly states that tax credits to subsidize health insurance are to be available only through an “Exchange established by the State.”
Shortly after the DC Circuit decision was announced, the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a separate case that the law’s language does allow the subsidies to be distributed through the federal exchanges.
This sets up a very likely Supreme Court challenge.”