On October 18, 2017, the attorneys general of eighteen states and the District of Columbia asked the United States District Court for the Northern District of California for a temporary restraining order and order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue to compel the Trump administration to continue making cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments until the lawsuit they have filed is resolved. The motion asks the court to make a decision by 4:00 PM tomorow, October 19, as the next cost-sharing reduction payment is due on October 20. The plaintiffs ask for a nationwide injunction as the issue it addresses is nationwide in scope.
The motion is supported by a legal memorandum and numerous affidavits. To obtain preliminary relief, a plaintiff “must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” In the Ninth Circuit, where California is located, it is enough to show that serious legal questions are presented if the balance of hardships tips sharply in the plaintiff’s favor.
The brief begins by explaining the purpose of the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing reductions: making health care affordable to lower-income individuals enrolled in silver marketplace plans by reducing out-of-pocket limits, deductibles, and other cost-sharing. It notes that insurers are required to reduce cost sharing for eligible individuals and that they are doing so to the tune of $7 billion for 2017. The ACA requires the federal government to reimburse insurers for these costs and up until September of 2017—including eight months of the Trump administration—it did so. Only days before the October payment was to be made, and less than three weeks before open enrollment began for 2018, the administration cut off the payments.
The states argue that Congress has in fact appropriated funds to cover the cost sharing reduction reimbursement payments. It is undisputed that Congress appropriated in the ACA funds for the premium tax credits and, the states argue, this appropriation covers the CSRs payments as well. They base their argument on the text, structure, and design of the ACA. This argument was rejected by the lower court in the House of Representatives’ lawsuit, but that decision is not binding on any other federal court and the states’ argument has never been ruled on by a federal appellate court.
The states further argue that the executive branch’s sudden termination of the CSR payments was “arbitrary and capricious” and thus prohibited by the Administrative Procedures Act. They contend that President Trump has violated his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The brief quotes liberally from President Trump’s tweets, in which he claimed, “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”; bragged that the ACA “is being dismantled, but in the meantime, premiums & deductibles are way up!” while health insurance stocks plunge because of his Executive action; and boasted that he had “knocked out the CSRs,” pronouncing the ACA “dead,” “finished,” and “gone.” The brief describes the President as “characteristically frank” in detailing his motives for cutting off the payments, which do not rely on legal analysis.
The brief describes in detail, with frequent cites to affidavits filed with the brief, the harm that the states and their residents will suffer because of the administration’s decision. These include destabilizing the states’ individual health insurance markets, increasing premiums, decreasing consumer plan choices, and suppressing market participation. The decision will also, the states assert, increase the number of uninsured individuals in the states and thus their uncompensated care costs. The brief notes that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals already recognized these burdens on the states when it granted them the right to intervene in the appeal of the case brought by the House of Representatives. The brief contends that the timing of the decision to terminate the CSR payments will cause consumer confusion and cause insurers to absorb multi-million dollar losses, further destabilizing the individual market.
Finally, the brief argues that the balance of the hardships tilts toward the plaintiff states. In particular, as has been noted by the Congressional Budget Office and others, terminating the CSR payments will cost the government more than it saves since it will increase premiums and thus premium tax credits. An injunction is also, the states note, necessary to preserve the status quo until the court can rule on the legal issues in the case.