On August 1, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted the motion of the attorneys general of 17 states and the District of Columbia to intervene in House v. Price. House v. Price is before the D.C. Circuit on appeal from the ruling of a district court judge in favor of the House of Representatives in its lawsuit claiming that the reimbursement of insurers for reducing cost sharing for low-income qualified health plan enrollees is illegal because Congress had not appropriated funding for the payments. The judge enjoined the payments but stayed her order pending an appeal and the Obama administration in fact appealed. The states had moved to intervene, claiming that they had an interest in the action and that the Trump administration was not adequately defending their interest.
The three-judge appellate panel held first that the states had demonstrated that they had standing to intervene because they “would suffer concrete injury if the court were to grant the relief the plaintiffs seek.” The states established that a judgment for the House terminating the payments would “lead directly and imminently to an increase in insurance prices, which in turn will increase the number of uninsured individuals for whom the States will have to provide health care.” This would in turn result in state-funded hospitals suffering financially when they have to cover emergency care for uninsured individuals.
The court further held that the states had established a right to intervene in the action. First, the states had established an interest in the subject matter of the lawsuit.
Second, the court held that allowing the injunction of the court below would impair the states’ rights. The court observed that the administration’s “claim that it could unilaterally suspend payments is a debated legal question, not an answer to the injury the States have evidenced. The injunction sought, which would forbid the payments at issue, would erect a roadblock to the States’ goal of either persuading or compelling the Department to make the payments.”
Third, the court held that the states had raised a sufficient doubt concerning the adequacy of the administration’s representation of their interest. The court noted that the administration had nowhere argued that it would protect the states’ interest or continue to pursue the appeal.
Fourth, the court held that the motion to intervene was timely. The states, the court held, “had filed within a reasonable time from when their doubts about adequate representation arose due to accumulating public statements by high-level officials both about a potential change in position and the Department’s joinder with the House in an effort to terminate the appeal.” The court, in short, took President Trump’s threats to terminate the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments seriously.
Finally, the court held that permissive intervention was also warranted in the case.
The court further ordered that the case would continue to be held in abeyance, with status reports at 90-day intervals and the next one due on October 30, 2017. With their status as parties to the case, however, the states may well next seek to get the case moving again.
The decision does not mean that the Trump administration is barred from ending the cost-sharing reduction payments. It does mean, however, that the administration cannot unilaterally stop the CSR payments, dismiss the appeal, and claim judicial imprimatur for its doing so. If the administration does stop making the payments, the states—or insurers, or possibly consumers—would be able to sue to require the payments to be made and the injunction entered by the lower court would not be as much of a “roadblock” to their prevailing. Finally, if the states ultimately convince the appellate court that the CSR funding has in fact been appropriated, the administration would be required to pay it. The decision is, therefore, a major development in the ongoing CSR saga.