During the recent oral argument in King v. Burwell — the Supreme Court case deciding if providing subsidies to buy health insurance in the 36 states utilizing federal health care exchanges is allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — Justice Kennedy suggested that disallowing subsidies might be unconstitutionally coercive because “states are being told either create your own exchange, or we’ll send your insurance market into a death spiral.” Are “death spirals” real, or just a way to frighten the public?
The death spiral will purportedly happen like this: disallowing federal exchange subsidies will make insurance less affordable for the 87% of federal exchange enrollees currently receiving subsidies. These people will no longer be required to buy insurance since the ACA’s individual mandate only applies to individuals who have access to affordable insurance. Since the ACA imposes community rating, requiring roughly the same premium for all individuals in a given plan with only small adjustments for their risk characteristics, and guaranteed issue of insurance regardless of the enrollee’s health, the old and unhealthy will continue to buy coverage but the young and healthy will forego coverage. The resulting higher risk pool of enrollees will increase the average cost of individuals remaining in the non-group insurance market, both on and off the exchanges, resulting in increased premiums that will drive out more low cost, healthy patients eventually destroying the market.
Two economic simulations predict that “adverse selection,” where healthier people leave the insurance market and sicker people stay in causing premiums to rise, will occur if the King plaintiffs prevail. The Urban Institute predicted discontinuing federal exchange subsidies would result in premium increases of 35% and enrollment declines of 69% in the individual health insurance market. The Rand Corporation made similar predictions.
But it is hard to reconcile these forecasts with studies of earlier state insurance market “reforms” that created market conditions similar to those that would result if federal exchange subsidies are disallowed. These studies suggest adverse selection would be minimal and would not lead to a “death spiral,” that is, it would not lead to a self-reinforcing cycle of adverse selection in which each time premiums rise, more people exit, leading to a sicker, more expensive risk pool and market collapse.
On Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Coons v. Lew, a constitutional challenge to provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) creating the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an independent federal agency charged with responsibility for controlling the growth of health-care costs by constraining the growth of Medicare.
IPAB is controversial, and potentially unconstitutional (as even fervent ACA advocates admit). Nonetheless, the denial of certiorari was to be expected. IPAB is not yet operational, so (as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded) a challenge of this sort isn’t ripe. If and when the IPAB is up and running — and begins making changes to Medicare that affect providers or beneficiaries — there will be ample time to consider the constitutionality of Congress’s creation.
Alternatively, Congress could repeal or reform IPAB itself, as some have suggested. Given that the text of the ACA expressly limits Congress’s ability to amend these portions of the law, such legislative action could itself prompt litigation and perhaps even High Court review.
The Court’s denial of certiorari in the Coons case does not mean the justices won’t revisit the ACA next term. Another cert petition is pending in Mayhew v. Burwell, Maine’s challenge to the constitutionality of the ACA’s maintenance of eligibility requirements for Medicaid. According to Maine (and supporting amici), the federal government’s threat to withhold all Medicaid funding should Maine restrict Medicaid eligibility below pre-existing levels is unconstitutionally coercive and violates the Medicaid holding of NFIB v. Sebelius.
If, as oral argument in King v. Burwell suggested, some of the justices are interested in revisiting federalism concerns about the ACA, Mayhew is a potential vehicle. Indeed, although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found Maine’s arguments unconvincing, Maine’s position would get a boost should the the federal government prevail in King on federalism grounds.
Kevin Pace is a jazz musician who teaches music appreciation in Northern Virginia. When the IRS announced it would impose the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate here in the Old Dominion, Pace’s employer cut hours for part-time professors in order to avoid steep penalties. Pace lost $8,000 in income. That would be bad enough if the penalties the IRS is now imposing on Virginia employers were legal. Yet two federal courts have held they are not.
In King v. Burwell, four Virginia taxpayers are challenging the IRS’s decision to impose Obamacare’s major taxing and spending provisions in states that refused to establish a health-insurance “exchange.” As provided in the Affordable Care Act, the federal government established fallback exchanges (HealthCare.gov) in those states.
But the act authorizes premium subsidies — and certain taxes that those subsidies trigger — only “through an Exchange established by the State.” In spite of that clear statutory requirement, the IRS is issuing premium subsidies and imposing those taxes in 34 states, including Virginia, that did not establish exchanges. The King challengers allege the IRS is subjecting them, Kevin Pace and 57 million other Americans to illegal taxes in the form of Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month, and will likely rule by June.
Times-Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle’s “The case against Obamacare is looking weaker,” March 23 — is skeptical of the challengers’ claim that Congress intended to authorize the disputed taxes and spending only in states that established exchanges. I used to share his skepticism. I no longer do.
When the Supreme Court drops its big ObamaCare ruling this summer, Republican leaders say they will be fully ready to step in — even if it won’t be the party’s official replacement plan.
“We have to be prepared, by the time the ruling comes, to have something. Not months later,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters this week.
Ryan said he plans to have a bill ready — and priced by the Congressional Budget Office — by late June when a ruling for King v. Burwell is expected. The GOP-backed case, which threatens to erase people’s subsidies in about three-quarters of states, has tremendously high stakes.
“There are going to be 37 states immediately impacted, or presumably impacted, and that’s something that deserves an immediate response,” Ryan told reporters.
He declined to provide details about the plan that he and other GOP chairmen are drafting, but said it would offer “freedom” and “more choices” for any ObamaCare customers who loses their subsidies. Until the ruling, he said King v. Burwell will be one of his top three agenda items.
Anticipating the upcoming Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, which could halt health insurance subsidies available through the federal exchange, Republican Senators Richard Burr and Orrin Hatch joined with Representative Fred Upton to propose a comprehensive replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act, or Patient CARE Act, is modeled on a proposal of the same name offered last year by Senators Burr, Hatch, and Tom Coburn, who has retired from the Senate. The Burr-Hatch-Upton plan, like its predecessor, adopts consumer-based reforms of the insurance market, modernizes the Medicaid program, and makes other changes intended to lower cost and increase choices.
In an earlier post, we described in detail the provisions of the Burr-Coburn-Hatch bill. In this post, we discuss how the Burr-Hatch-Upton plan differs from the earlier proposal. We also discuss the impact of the new proposal on health insurance coverage, premiums, and the federal budget based on a new analysis from the Center for Health and Economy (H&E), a non-partisan think tank focused on producing informative analyses of trends in U.S. health care policy and reform ideas. We conclude by commenting on the direction Republicans are likely to take in reforming the health system in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision in the King v. Burwell case.
During a 2014 Valentine’s Day meet-up with House Democrats, President Obama thanked them for their unstinting support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “I think,” he said, “10 years, five years from now, we’re going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement.”
Well, the president’s health care law marks its fifth anniversary this week. And most Americans are not, in fact, looking back and saying the law enacted in 2010 – with not one Republican vote in either the House or Senate – was a monumental achievement.
Indeed, in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month, a 44-34 plurality of respondents thought Obamacare a “bad idea.” And a 62-22 percent majority said that what they had seen, read or heard in recent weeks about the Affordable Care Act had made them “less confident” about the law.
Some suggest the public’s misgivings about Obamacare are almost entirely attributable to GOP opposition to the law. In a statement Monday, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that “Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or undermine this critical law.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s comments in a run-of-the-mill budget meeting Monday may have signaled how he intends to vote in this year’s biggest Obamacare lawsuit over the legality of federal premium subsidies.
In a Monday budget request before the House Appropriations Committee, Justice Anthony Kennedy, typically the swing vote on the Court, made comments that could suggest he’s leaning in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell. The question in the pivotal case is whether the text of Obamacare restricts the law’s popular premium subsidies to state-run exchanges, of which there are only 14, and bans them from the vast majority of states that use the federally-run exchange, HealthCare.gov.
The battle over the lawsuit about Obamacare subsidies currently before the Supreme Court has focused on whether anyone’s got a solution if the Court’s decision ends up skyrocketing HealthCare.gov premiums.
ObamaCare is celebrating its fifth anniversary, but few Americas are cheering.
The Real Clear Politics average of the latest major opinion polls about the health law shows that 52.5% oppose it and only 42% approve. The 10.5% spread is identical to the average of polls taken when the law was signed five years ago. Approval numbers never have topped disapproval numbers since the law was enacted. It is not getting more popular and it is not settled law, as President Obama claims.
President Obama is touting the increased number of people who have health insurance as a result of the law. According to Gallup, the uninsured rate among U.S. adults averaged 12.9% in the fourth quarter of last year. The uninsured rate was 14.4% the year before the health law passed, also according to Gallup.
So our health sector has been thrown into turmoil, millions of people have lost their private health plans, $1 trillion in new and higher taxes have been imposed on individuals and businesses – and the uninsured rate has dropped a net of 1.5%.
Five years ago, President Obama and Congressional Democrats disregarded both the Constitution and the opinion of the American people when they enacted ObamaCare. Since then, Americans have seen the law transition from political to personal. Many have lost access to their longtime doctor. They lost the insurance plan they were happy with. They pay higher premiums or a higher deductible. Maybe it cost them their job, maybe it cost them hours at work, or maybe they’re suffering from all of the above.
As the legislation has been implemented over the last five years, the cracks in the final bill have expanded one by one into full scale crises. President Obama has attempted to patch these problems by writing new rules and regulations on the fly, often with questionable constitutionality. But soon his days of bypassing federal law and the Constitution may catch up to him, and to all of us.
If the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell strikes down subsidies to the buyers of health insurance on the federal exchange, President Obama will call on Congress to change the law to allow the subsidies. There also will be enormous pressure on elected officials to establish state exchanges in the 34 states that don’t have them. Instead, congressional Republicans should be laying the groundwork for market-friendly health reforms and devolving power to the states, meanwhile helping Americans who have difficulty purchasing coverage…