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.
“Federal officials have capped the amount of money scofflaws will be forced to pay if they don’t buy insurance this year at $2,448 per person and $12,240 for a family of five.
The amount is equal to the national average annual premium for a bronze level health plan. But only those with an income above about a quarter of a million dollars would benefit from the cap. Those making less would still have to pay as much as 1 percent of their annual income.
The penalty for the first year starts at $95 per adult or $47.50 per child under 18. The penalty for not buying insurance increases to 2 percent of income or $325, whichever is higher, for 2015. The fines are due when people file their 2014 taxes.
The figures, released late Thursday, are important because the White House has only provided theoretical caps in the past. Conservative lawmakers and groups that are critical of the Affordable Care Act encouraged consumers to skip buying insurance, arguing it would be cheaper to pay a $95 penalty, but often failed to mention the 1 percent clause.”
“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.”
“WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress resumed their campaign against the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday with new zeal, fired up by a ruling of a federal appeals court panel that said premium subsidies paid to millions of Americans in 36 states were illegal.
Republicans pointed to the ruling as evidence of problems in the law that could not easily be solved.
“Time and time again,” said Representative Charles Boustany Jr., Republican of Louisiana, “the administration has chosen to ignore the law, and when it does implement the law, it does so incompetently.”
Mr. Boustany presided over a hearing of a House Ways and Means subcommittee on Wednesday. An official from the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, testified at the hearing that undercover agents had obtained insurance coverage and subsidies using fake documents and fictitious identities.”
“Most working people in the U.S. sign up for health insurance in a very straightforward way: a few forms, a few questions for human resources, a few choices of plans.
Signing up for Affordable Care Act insurance was nothing like that. It involved questions about income, taxes, family size and immigration status. And in most places in the country, there were myriad choices of plans with subtle differences between them.
Guess what? People looked for help on the decision.
During the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period, about 10.6 million people received personal help from navigators and other enrollment assisters, according to an online survey of the programs released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
And the assistance was time consuming: 64 percent of the programs reported that they spent an hour to two hours with each consumer on average. The assisters and navigators included 28,000 full-time-equivalent workers across the country, funded by federal and state governments as well as outside sources, the survey found.”
“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.”
“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:”
“A federal appeals court panel in the District struck down a major part of the 2010 health-care law Tuesday, ruling that the tax subsidies that are central to the program may not be provided in at least half of the states.
The ruling, if upheld, could potentially be more damaging to the law than last month’s Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who argued that the language of the law barred the government from giving subsidies to people in states that chose not to set up their own insurance marketplaces. Twenty-seven states, most with Republican leaders who oppose the law, decided against setting up marketplaces, and another nine states partially opted out.
The government could request an “en banc” hearing, putting the case before the entire appeals court, and the question ultimately may end up at the Supreme Court. But if subsidies for half the states are barred, it represents a potentially crippling blow to the health-care law, which relies on the subsidies to make insurance affordable for millions of low- and middle-income Americans.”
“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.”
“Nine months after Americans began signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a challenging new phase is emerging as confused enrollees clamor for help in understanding their coverage.
Nonprofit organizations across the country are being swamped by consumers with questions. Many are low-income, have never had insurance and have little knowledge of the health-care system. The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits — or to keep their coverage altogether.
Community organizations are scrambling to keep up with the larger-than-anticipated demand, but they are stretched thin. A federal program to help consumers has also run out of money.
“We are hearing this in probably every state that we work in,” said Christine Barber, a senior policy analyst with Community Catalyst, a Boston-based advocacy organization that works with community groups in more than 40 states. “ ‘Okay, I have my card. What do I do now?’ ””