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.

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“The decision in the Halbig v. Burwell case this week was an unexpected legal boon to opponents of Obamacare. Spearheaded by the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and law professor Jonathan Adler, the case will almost certainly lead this debate about the text of the Affordable Care Act back to the Supreme Court. My colleague Sean Davis has written a comprehensive piece on the case, particularly on the nature of the supposed “drafting error” at its core.
But whatever the ultimate outcome for Halbig, the case serves as a reminder of the uneven ground on which Obama’s health care law is likely to be standing over the next two years.

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“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subsidy amounts and dates to verify the information, but she asked that her financial information and medical history not be published for privacy reasons.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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“This week, an unprecedented circuit split emerged in Halbig v. Burwell and King v. Burwell over whether health insurance premium assistance is available in states that didn’t set up health insurance exchanges. Many commentators have since claimed that there’s no way Congress intended to deny premium assistance to residents of the 36 so-called “refusenik” states that have not set up their own health insurance exchanges.
But in January 2012, Jonathan Gruber—an MIT economics professor whom the The New York Times has called “Mr. Mandate” for his pivotal role in helping the Obama administration and Congress draft the Affordable Care Act—told an audience at Noblis that:
What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits—but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill.

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“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.”

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“Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell continued her management shake-up Wednesday by naming a former vice president at Wal-Mart as senior adviser.
The move to bring Leslie Dach to HHS reveals Burwell’s interest in heading off problems during ObamaCare’s second enrollment period, due to start in November.
The new HHS secretary also wants to add professionals with significant private sector experience to her inner circle.
“Leslie’s experience, which spans the business, government, and civil society sectors, will further enhance our ability to deliver impact for the American people,” Burwell said in a statement.
“We want to not only retain, but also recruit, talented individuals to our mission of ensuring every American has access to the building blocks of a healthy, productive life.”
Dach will focus on ObamaCare’s second enrollment period as well as projects across the department, according to a press memo.”

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“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.

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