Tag Archive: King v. Burwell

Exchange plan subsidies face second major legal threat

Subsidies for qualified health plans (QHPs) sold on state health benefit exchanges are facing another significant legal threat, less than one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell that advance tax credit premium subsidies are available for all state health benefit exchanges, including those states that opted to allow the federal government to operate the exchange. The plaintiffs in that case unsuccessfully argued the language of Section 1311(d)(1) of the Affordable Care Act narrowly defined an exchange as a governmental agency or nonprofit entity that is “established by a State.” In King, the Obama administration argued and the high court agreed that read in the broader context of the law, the tax credit subsidies are intended to apply in all exchanges.

Citing King, the administration similarly contends in United States House of Representatives v. Burwell that context is key relative to Section 1402 of the Affordable Care Act. That section provides for supplemental subsidies in addition to advance premium tax credits for households earning between 100 and 250 percent of federal poverty levels. The additional subsidies limit out of pocket costs for households at that income level enrolling in a silver level QHPs — the most commonly selected metallic plan design. In House of Representatives, plaintiffs argue their funding is not a continuing appropriation and thus requires an annual appropriation as part of the federal budget.

The administration claims taken in the larger context of the Affordable Care Act, Section 1402 is ambiguous and must be read in context with Section 1401 that funds the advance tax credit premium subsidies via Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code. The two funding mechanisms are intended to work tandem to make individual coverage more affordable to low income households, the administration posits. Disallowing funding for the supplemental cost sharing subsidies as the House seeks while leaving it intact for premium tax credits would produce an absurd outcome, it maintains.

In a ruling issued May 12, U.S. District Court judge Rosemary M. Collyer agreed with the House, finding the supplemental cost sharing subsidies must be annually appropriated. “Far from absurd, that is a perfectly valid means of appropriation” Collyer wrote, finding paying them for qualified silver QHP enrollees violates the Constitution’s allocation of spending power to Congress without a proper appropriation approved by Congress and the president.

The administration is expected to appeal Collyer’s ruling to the First U.S. District Court of Appeal. Because the unusual case involves a dispute between the legislative and executive branches over the power of Congress to appropriate funding under the Constitution, it’s possible it could go directly to the Supreme Court. In any case, Collyer’s ruling won’t likely have an impact on QHPs offered on the exchanges in 2017 given Collyer stayed the House’s requested injunction against further administration spending for the cost sharing subsidies pending appeals. The change in administrations in 2017 will also blunt the impact of the ruling given the next administration and Congress could opt amend or repeal the Affordable Care Act such as to moot the case.

According to this Urban Institute analysis, if Collyer’s ruling ultimately becomes the law of the land and the Affordable Care Act remains intact, it would force health plans to substantially increase premiums for silver plans in order to recover the lost federal funding for cost sharing subsidies since they would remain under the ACA’s requirement to offer silver QHPs with reduced cost sharing to eligible households. That premium increase would in turn boost advance premium tax credit subsidies that are pegged to the premium rate for the second lowest cost silver QHP offered on exchanges, according to the analysis.

States could also reassess their options under the ACA if the cost sharing subsidies remain unfunded given that a significant percentage of exchange enrollees rely upon them. They could opt to cover most of this population under “basic health plans” per ACA Section 1331 for low income households earning up to 200 percent of federal poverty and not eligible for Medicaid. They also have the option to waive the cost sharing subsidies under Section 1332 of the law affording states wide latitude to fashion their own state health plans provided they meet certain conditions of coverage and don’t entail additional federal funding.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

SCOTUS takes holistic, broad contextual reading of ACA in rejecting challenge of exchange tax credit subsidies

The U.S. Supreme Court adopted a holistic, broad contextual reading of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in ruling today in King v. Burwell that premium tax credits to subsidize the purchase of individual health coverage are available on all state health benefit exchanges, including those states that opted to allow the federal government to set up the exchange.

The majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts is the second major decision he authored turning back significant challenges to the law. In June 2013, Roberts upheld the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all individuals have some form of health coverage or pay a tax penalty.

The petitioners argued the Affordable Care Act permitted the tax credits only in states that established an exchange through direct state action rather than defaulting to the federal government operation of an exchange. The majority opinion however took a three-legged stool analysis in concluding the tax credit subsidies are one of three critical elements of the law’s reforms of the individual health insurance market that work together in a unified manner. Removing the subsidies in some states would thus collapse this tripartite reform scheme and result in the failure of the market that Congress clearly intended to remedy, the majority concluded.

“The combination of no tax credits and an ineffective coverage requirement could well push a State’s individual insurance market into a death spiral” of adverse selection, Roberts wrote for the majority. “It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner.” Roberts noted Congress passed the Affordable Care Act “to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is con­sistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

Two words trump four: The petitioners’ challenge turned on the last four words at Section 1311(d)(1) in the Affordable Care Act, defining an exchange as a governmental agency or nonprofit entity that is “established by a State.” But the law’s general reference to the mandatory exchanges using the term “such exchange” trumped those four words, the majority reasoned, creating parity between exchanges created by state action and those set up by the federal government: (The Affordable Care Act requires exchanges operate in all states from 2014-16 with provisions for a waiver beginning in 2017)

If a State chooses not to follow the di­rective in Section 18031 to establish an Exchange, the Act tells the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish “such Ex­change.” §18041. And by using the words “such Exchange,” the Act indicates that State and Federal Exchanges should be the same. But State and Federal Exchanges would differ in a fundamental way if tax credits were available only on State Exchanges—one type of Ex­change would help make insurance more affordable by providing bil­lions of dollars to the States’ citizens; the other type of Exchange would not.

The majority’s legal analysis was not based on the doctrine of deference to reasonable regulatory agency interpretation of ambiguous statutory law under Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837. While that analysis is based on the premise that Congress delegated interpretation of a statute to regulators, it is not appropriate in this case, Roberts wrote:

“In extraordinary cases, however, there may be reason to hesitate before concluding that Congress has intended such an implicit delegation.” This is one of those cases. The tax credits are among the Act’s key reforms, involving billions of dollars in spending each year and affecting the price of health insur­ance for millions of people. Whether those credits are available on Federal Exchanges is thus a question of deep “economic and political significance” that is central to this statutory scheme; had Congress wished to assign that question to an agency, it surely would have done so ex­pressly.

The full opinion as well as a dissenting opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia is available here.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

2015 crucial year for future of state health benefit exchanges

This year will prove a crucial one for the future of state health benefit exchanges. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the exchanges are mandated in all states for three years: 2014 through 2016. After that, the states can petition the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for waivers to set up their own state plans provided the plans conform to the law’s requirements for scope of benefits and access and affordability for individuals and small employers.

How two issues will play out in 2015 will determine how the health benefit exchange marketplace will shape up later this year and during its final mandatory year of operation next year.

The first issue is the widely covered case (King v. Burwell) awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether the Obama administration’s regulations on advance tax credit premium subsidies comply with the Affordable Care Act and specifically whether the subsidies are available in states that did not establish an exchange via state action. There’s an outside chance the high court could rule the subsidies cannot be offered in those state exchanges, which many observers conclude could be so disruptive that it could call into question the future viability of the exchanges in those three dozen states.

Secondly, half of the states that did establish an exchange through state action – known as state-based exchanges or SBEs– face significant questions as to the sustainability of their SBEs relative to their financial and/or information technology implementation capacity. These include SBEs in Colorado, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

SCOTUS should issue ruling in King v. Burwell ASAP

The U.S. Supreme Court should issue its ruling in King v. Burwell regarding the availability of advance premium tax credits in the nearly three dozen states where the federal government operates state health benefit exchanges as soon as possible. Waiting to issue its decision at or near the expiration of its current term at the end of June will produce months of needless uncertainty adversely impacting the policy planning of the states with federally facilitated exchanges (FFEs), particularly given that many of their legislatures are in session now and considering contingencies including establishing state-based exchanges should the subsidies be ruled illegal in those states.

If the subsidies are found to be contrary to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — even though there’s at least an even chance they will not — states will need sufficient time to authorize and set up their own exchanges and select exchange qualified health plans prior to the start of plan year 2015 open enrollment on November 1. Health plan issuers also need to know if the subsidies will be available in order to make decisions as to what if any plans they will offer in the affected FFE states. Finally, with Congress trapped in partisan gridlock, there is little likelihood of a quick fix from the legislative branch of the federal government if the subsidies are cut off in the FFEs. It’s up the the judiciary to end the uncertainty. A rapid ruling would also be consistent with the high court’s expedited decision to hear the case before a full split could develop among the U.S. circuit courts of appeal.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

ACA’s Multi-State Plan provision could aid government’s case in King v. Burwell

The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court in King v. Burwell is whether the U.S. Treasury Department properly interpreted the intent of the drafters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act regarding the availability of tax credit subsidies for health plans sold on state health benefit exchanges. More specifically, whether Treasury is correct in determining the subsidies are available to qualified individuals regardless of whether an exchange is established by a state or if the federal government operates the exchange under a default provision of the Affordable Care Act if a state opts not to do so.

The high court could look to other parts of the statute for context as it discerns Congress’s intent regarding the availability of the subsidies. One element of the law that could support Treasury’s position is at Section 1334 of the Affordable Care Act. Section 1334 creates a federally-chartered Multi-State health plan (MSP) that must be offered in all state exchanges by 2017. The policy intent is to bolster competition and consumer choice, particularly in states with smaller populations and fewer plan issuers.

In the context of the question before the Supreme Court in King, the government might argue Congress could not have intended that the subsidies are available only for MSPs offered in states that chose to establish an exchange but not in those that did not. Especially given the objective of MSPs to make individual and small group health coverage more widely available. In a proposed rulemaking issued last week, the federal Office of Personnel Management (which charters MSPs) noted it “intends to ensure that MSP coverage is available as expansively and as soon as practicable.”

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Contradictory exchange language in Affordable Care Act causes latest uncertainty over law

Today’s 2-1 ruling by the District Of Columbia Circuit U.S Court of Appeals in Halbig, et al v. Burwell holding that the Internal Revenue Service incorrectly interpreted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provisions governing advance tax credits for individual health plans purchased though state health benefit exchanges — regardless of whether a state has opted to operate its own exchange or defaulted to having the federal government do so — stems from two contradictory provisions in the law.

Section 1311(b)(1) of the law requires all states to establish an exchange, stating that “Each State shall, not later than January 1, 2014, establish an American Health Benefit Exchange (referred to in this title as an ‘‘Exchange’’) for the State…” (Emphasis added)

When the word “shall” appears in a statute, it’s a mandate or obligatory requirement. It’s not an option or a suggestion.

However, the Court of Appeal also reviewed another section of the Affordable Care Act at Part 3 that gives the states flexibility in implementing the exchange mandate. This is where the trouble lies. Section 1321(b) states:

 (b) STATE ACTION.—Each State that elects, at such time and in such manner as the Secretary may prescribe, to apply the requirements described in subsection (a) shall, not later than January 1, 2014, adopt and have in effect—

(1) the Federal standards established under subsection (a);
or
(2) a State law or regulation that the Secretary determines implements the standards within the State. (Emphasis added)

Among the federal standards established under subsection (a) is the establishment and operation of exchanges.

Note the use of the word “elects.” Elect means to choose or opt to take (or not take) an action. It is not a requirement unlike the clear “shall” of a mandate. That implies that despite the clear mandate of Section 1311(b)(1), a state could theoretically opt not to establish an exchange under Section 1321(b).

The Court of Appeal apparently picked up on this distinction in its ruling:

The crux of this case is whether an Exchange established by the federal government is an exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA].” We therefore begin with the provisions authorizing states and the federal government to establish Exchanges. Section 1311 provides that states “shall” establish Exchanges. 42 U.S.C. § 18031(b)(1). But, as the parties agree, despite its seemingly mandatory language, section 1311 more cajoles than commands. A state is not literally required to establish an Exchange; the ACA merely encourages it to do so. And if a state elects not to (or is unable to), such that it “will not have any required Exchange operational by January 1, 2014,” section 1321 directs the federal government, through the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to “establish and operate such Exchange within the State.” Id. § 18041(c)(1).

This is likely to be a critical analysis determining the fate of the subsidies in the three dozen states that have elected not to operate their own exchanges as the case moves forward to a potential en banc review by the District Of Columbia Circuit U.S Court of Appeals. The matter could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court after another circuit of the Court of Appeals panel today unanimously upheld the IRS’s interpretation of the advance tax credit subsidies as applying to all states, regardless of whether they elected to establish their own exchanges. That ruling was in King et al v. Burwell. The conflicting rulings leave a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the federally operated exchanges that is unlikely to be resolved in the less than four months remaining to plan year 2015 enrollment that opens November 15.

The potential for the Supreme Court to intervene increases in light of this analysis by the law firm of Epstein Becker Green noting similar cases pending before other federal appellate courts that could leave the issue unresolved:

The Obama administration has already indicated it will seek en banc review of the Halbig decision by the entire D.C. Circuit. If the full D.C. Circuit reverses the Halbig panel decision, the existing “circuit split” would be resolved, potentially making Supreme Court review less likely. It should be noted that there are similar cases pending in district courts in the 10th and 7th Circuits, that if decided in favor of the challengers could create a circuit split even if the full D.C. Circuit reverses Halbig.

If issue comes before the Supreme Court and it upholds Halbig, it would throw the individual health insurance market in the majority of states with federally-operated exchanges back into market failure since without the advance tax credit subsidies that are propping it up, low and moderate income earners would once again be priced out of the market, especially those in the highest age rating bands. It could also severely erode the Affordable Care Act’s shared responsibility provisions by exempting individuals from the coverage mandate based on unaffordable premiums and mooting fines levied on large employers that don’t offer minimum affordable coverage and an employee obtains subsidized individual coverage in a state health benefit exchange since the subsidies would no longer be available in the federally-operated exchanges.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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