Five takeaways on the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision

Obamacare Returns as Galvanizing Issue After Ginsburg Death and Barrett  Nomination - The New York Times

In what has become something of a Washington tradition, the Supreme Court again upheld the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, in the third major case from Republican challengers to reach the high court. 

The margin this time was larger, 7-2, as the High Court appears less and less interested in revisiting the health care law through the judiciary. 

Democrats hailed the ruling as a boost to their signature law, and Republicans were left to figure out a path forward on health care amid another defeat. 

Here are five takeaways:

This could be the last gasp of repeal efforts

It is impossible to ever fully rule out another lawsuit challenging the health law or another repeal push if Republicans win back Congress. 

But after more than 10 years of fighting the Affordable Care Act, GOP efforts at fighting the law are seriously deflated, as many Republicans themselves acknowledge. 

“It’s been my public view for some time that the Affordable Care Act is largely baked into the health care system in a way that it’s unlikely to change or be eliminated,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership. 

Asked if he still wanted to repeal and replace the law, which was the GOP rallying cry for years, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said instead, “I think I want to make sure it works,” before attacking former President Obama’s promises about the law’s benefits. 

Even Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who helped bring the lawsuit against the health law as attorney general of Missouri, said Thursday that the Supreme Court had made clear “they’re not going to entertain a constitutional challenge to the ACA.”

Supporters of the law said it is now even more entrenched, despite years of GOP attacks

“The war appears to be over and the Affordable Care Act has won,” said Stan Dorn, senior fellow at the health care advocacy group Families USA. 

Still, not all Republicans are throwing in the towel on at least verbally attacking the law. 

“The ruling does not change the fact that Obamacare failed to meet its promises and is hurting hard-working American families,” said House GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Steve Scalise (La.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.). 

And there is at least one ACA-related lawsuit still working its way through the lower courts. Kelley v. Becerra challenges provisions of the health law around insurance plans covering preventive care including birth control.

The Supreme Court was fairly united 

The margin of victory for the health law was fairly large, with even more conservative justices such as Clarence ThomasAmy Coney BarrettBrett Kavanaugh and John Roberts ruling to uphold the law, joining the opinion from liberal Justice Stephen Breyer

The court’s other two liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, also joined the majority of seven. Two conservatives, Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, dissented and would have struck down the law. 

Through the three major Supreme Court cases on ObamaCare, the margin of victory has risen from 5-4 to 6-3 to 7-2. 

“There’s a real message there about the Supreme Court’s willingness to tolerate these kinds of lawsuits,” Andy Pincus, a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, said of the growing margin of victory. 

The case was decided on fairly technical grounds. The Court ruled that the challengers did not have standing to sue, given that the penalty for not having health insurance at the center of the case had been reduced to zero, so it was not causing any actual harm that could be the basis for a lawsuit. 

Republicans did get some vindication in that Democrats had fiercely attacked Barrett during her confirmation hearings for being a vote to overturn the health law, when in fact she ended up voting to maintain the law. 

The ACA is stabilizing

The early years of the Affordable Care Act were marked with the turbulence of a website that failed at launch, premium increases, and major insurers dropping out of the markets given financial losses. 

Now, though, the markets are far more stable. For example, 78 percent of ACA enrollees now have the choice of three or more insurers, up from 57 percent in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Democrats, now in control of the House, Senate and White House, were able to pass earlier this year expansions of the law’s financial assistance to help further bring down premium costs. 

The Biden administration announced earlier this month that a record 31 million people were covered under the ACA, including both the private insurance marketplaces and the expansion of Medicaid. 

“We are no longer in the Affordable Care Act, ‘How’s it going to go? Is it going to survive?’ mode,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA. “We really are in a whole new phase. It really is: ‘How do we improve it?’”

Republicans face questions on their health care message

The Republican health care message for years was summed up with the simple slogan “repeal and replace.

But now those efforts have failed in Congress, in 2017, and have failed for a third time in the courts. 

That leaves uncertainty about what the Republican health care message is. The party has famously struggled to unite around an alternative to the ACA, so there is no consensus alternative for the party to turn to. 

The statement from McCarthy, Scalise, and Stefanik calling the ACA “failed,” shows that party leaders are not fully ready to accept the law.

The leaders added that “House Republicans are committed to actually lowering health care costs,” which has been a possible area for the party to focus that is not simply about repealing the ACA. 

But any discussion of health care costs is fraught with complications. Republicans, for example, overwhelmingly oppose House Democrats’ legislation to allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices, arguing it would harm innovation from the pharmaceutical industry. 

Grassley reached a bipartisan deal on somewhat less sweeping drug pricing legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in 2019, but that bill went too far for many Republicans as well. 

Democrats want to go farther, but face an uphill climb

With the ACA further entrenched, and control of the House, Senate and White House, Democrats are looking at ways to build on the health law. 

The main health care proposal from the presidential campaign, a government-run “public option” for health insurance, has faded from the conversation and is not expected to be a part of a major legislative package on infrastructure and other priorities Democrats are pushing for this year. 

While the health care industry has largely made its peace with the ACA, pushing for a public option or lowering health care costs means taking on a fight with powerful industry groups. 

Progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have instead poured their energy into expanding Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and lowering the eligibility age to 60. 

Allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices also could make it into the package.

“Now, we’re going to try to make it bigger and better — establish, once and for all, affordable health care as a basic right of every American citizen,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.). “What a day.”

Supreme Court upholds ACA in 7-2 decision, leaving intact landmark US health law during pandemic

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued an opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act by a 7-2 vote, allowing millions to keep their insurance coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the decision, the court reversed a lower court ruling finding the individual mandate unconstitutional. However, the court did not get to the key question of whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the law. Instead, the court held the plaintiffs do not have standing in the case, or a legal right to bring the suit.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion while Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch filed dissenting opinions.

Breyer wrote that a court must address a plaintiffs’ injuries. But Breyer found there were no injuries, so he asked: “What is that relief? The plaintiffs did not obtain damages.” Breyer added, “There is no one, and nothing, to enjoin.”

A wide swath of industry cheered Thursday’s news.

The American Medical Association called it a victory for patients, so too did America’s Essential Hospitals, a safety net trade group that called it a win. The American Hospital Association said the more than 30 million of Americans who obtained coverage from the law can “breathe a sigh of relief.”

Millions of Americans gained health insurance coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s landmark law passed in 2010 and reshaped virtually every corner of American healthcare. The latest challenge threatened to undo coverage gains under the law that helped drive down the uninsured rate to a record low.

Proponents feared the law was in greater jeopardy following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, part of the court’s liberal wing, which shrunk to just three of a total of nine justices without her.

Those fears now seem to be overblown. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the courts liberals in upholding the law, as did two of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court picks, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

In a rare move, Trump’s DOJ declined to defend the ACA, when the challenge was brought by a group of red states and two men with marketplace plans. Former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, now HHS secretary, led a group of blue states to defend the law in federal court. 

Recap of the controversial case

The case centers on the individual mandate, the part of the law that compelled Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a fee. The framers of the ACA believed the mandate would help drive healthy people to ensure they weren’t just filled with sick people, risking higher costs and adverse selection for insurers.

Congress effectively killed the mandate in 2017 by setting the penalty to $0.

The plaintiffs’ legal argument was strategic. They directly targeted the linchpin that saved the law in 2012. The Supreme Court largely upheld the ACA in 2012 when it ruled the mandate could be considered a tax and therefore was constitutional. Roberts infuriated conservatives by siding with liberals in that case.

Take that penalty away, by zeroing it out, and the plaintiffs argue the law is no longer constitutional because it can no longer be considered a tax if no money is collected

The key question before the Supreme Court was whether they could simply pluck the individual mandate from the remainder of the monumental health law, throw the entire law out or find some middle ground. 

The plaintiffs have argued that the individual mandate is so intertwined and closely linked to the rest of the law that the entire piece of legislation must fall if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional.

Before arriving at the Supreme Courta lower court ruled in 2019 the mandate was unconstitutional but sent back the key question of whether the mandate could be extracted from the remainder of the law back to the district court. The federal appeals court ruling by a three-judge panel came down along party lines: two Republicans and one Democrat.     

A question of standing

Some legal experts have criticized the challenge because the individual plaintiffs, two Texas men, no longer face any financial penalty if they were to forgo coverage. SCOTUS’ ruling agrees with that logic.

The two men joined the case originally brought by a group of red states. Legal experts said it would have been harder for the group of red states to prove an injury than the two men, John Nantz and Neill Hurley.    

The court seemed skeptical of whether the plaintiffs had standing to bring the case during oral arguments in November. Justices spent a large portion of the two-hour hearing on the topic. 

The word standing was mentioned at least 59 times, according to the court’s transcript of the hearing, outnumbering other key words such as severability, another important legal concept in the case. 

In one now-telling exchange from oral arguments, Gorsuch seemed confused over the premise of the challenge to begin with: “I guess I’m a little unclear who exactly they want me to enjoin and what exactly do they want me to enjoin them from doing?”

Supreme Court upholds Affordable Care Act

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/supreme-court-upholds-affordable-care-act

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in a decision released this morning. 

The Republican state plaintiffs, led by Texas, have failed to show they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the ACA’s minimum essential coverage provision, the justices said. 

“Therefore, we reverse the Fifth Circuit’s judgment in respect to standing, vacate the judgment, and remand the case with instructions to dismiss,” they said.

Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the majority opinion, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined. 

Justice Samuel Alito filed the dissenting opinion in which Judge Neil Gorsuch joined. 

1 in 3 Americans skip care due to cost concerns, survey shows

Americans most likely to skip health care due to cost: survey

In the past year, cost was a bigger factor driving Americans to skip recommended healthcare than fear of contracting COVID-19, according to a report released June 1 by Patientco, a revenue cycle management company focusing on patient payment technology.

Patientco surveyed 3,116 patients and 46 healthcare providers, finding 34 percent of female patients and 30 percent of male patients have avoided care in the past year citing concerns about out-of-pocket costs.

Below are three more notable findings from the report:

  1. Healthcare affordability is not an issue that affects only Americans with low incomes, as 85 percent of patients with household incomes greater than $175,000 are less likely to defer care when flexible payment options are offered.
  2. Across all ages, income levels and education levels, most patients said they struggled to understand their medical bills and what they owed. Nearly two-thirds of patients said they did not understand their explanation of benefits, did not know what they should do with the information in their explanation of benefits, or waited too long to obtain their explanation of benefits.
  3. Forty-five percent of patients said they would need financial assistance for medical bills that exceed $500, and 66 percent of patients said the same for medical bills that exceed $1,000.

Supreme Court’s ACA ruling looms

Some States Make Obamacare Backup Plans, As Supreme Court Decision Looms :  Shots - Health News : NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court is heading into the last month of its current term with one major healthcare case, the move to invalidate the ACA, yet to be decided, The New York Times reported June 1. 

A coalition of Republican-leaning states, led by Texas, have asked the court to strike down the ACA, signed into law in 2010. The states argue that the entire ACA is invalid because, in December 2017, Congress eliminated the law’s tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance. The states argue that the individual mandate requiring Americans to gain health insurance or pay a penalty is inseparable from the rest of the law and became unconstitutional when the tax penalty was eliminated.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in November, and at least five Supreme Court justices indicated support for not striking down the entire ACA.

The court is expected to rule on the matter before its nine-month term ends at the end of June, Reuters reported. 

Few healthcare surprises in Biden’s FY22 budget

Healthcare Spending Cuts Proposed in Federal Budget Deal

https://mailchi.mp/f42a034b349e/the-weekly-gist-may-28-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

President Biden released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 on Friday, clocking in at a whopping $6T of federal spending on programs aimed at making sweeping investments in infrastructure, education, and social services, and banking on hefty government borrowing at low interest rates to fuel a major overhaul of the American economy.

The proposal includes big increases in discretionary spending, including raising funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by 23.4 percent, to $133.7B, the largest increase in almost two decades. The budget bolsters funding for a variety of healthcare programs, but notably includes specifics on only two major increases in mandatory healthcare spending: making permanent the temporary subsidy increases for individual coverage that are part of the American Rescue Plan Act ($163B); and expanding home- and community-based services in Medicaid ($400B). Both of those proposals were announced earlier this year as part of Biden’s twin recovery packages for infrastructure and social programs.
 
Notably absent, apart from statements of general support, are any details for implementing a “public option” health plan, or for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60—two healthcare proposals that figured prominently in Biden’s campaign platform. Nor are there specifics on lowering spending on prescription drugs, another key area of interest among lawmakers. Like all presidential budgets, the Biden document is simply a statement of priorities, providing a starting point for negotiations in Congress.

But the relatively narrow scope of the healthcare proposals—as hefty as their price tags are—indicates that the White House is likely not willing to throw down over a major overhaul of coverage, at least while Congress is so closely divided. While there are bills afloat in both the House and Senate to more aggressively expand coverage, we’d expect this summer’s legislative horse-trading to result in something resembling what’s in the President’s budget—and not much more. 

“Medicare at 60” and a national public option are likely on hold, at least until after the 2022 midterm elections.

Average benchmark premiums for ACA exchange plans decline again in 2021: report

Affordable Care Act

Average benchmark premiums for plans on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges have fallen for the third straight year, according to a new analysis.

Researchers at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank, found that the average benchmark premium on the exchanges fell by 1.7% for 2021. That follows decreases of 1.2% in 2019 and 3.2% in 2020.

By contrast, premiums for employer-sponsored plans increased by 4% in both 2019 and 2020, according to the report. Data for 2021 on the employer market are not yet available, the researchers said.

The national average benchmark premium was $443 per month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker, according to the report, before accounting for any tax credits.

The researchers found much significant variation in premium levels between states, though the difference in growth rates was smaller. Minnesota reported the lowest average benchmark premium at $292 per month, and the highest was in Wisconsin at $782 per month.

Average benchmark premiums topped $500 in 10 states, according to the report.

One of the key trends that’s slowing premium growth is increasing competition in the exchanges, as many insurers are expanding their offerings or returning to the marketplaces to offer plans, according to the report.

“New entrants included national and regional insurers, Medicaid insurers, and small start-up insurers,” the researchers wrote.

Medicaid insurers are those who operated exclusively in the Medicaid managed-care market before 2014; they have increased their participation in the Marketplaces over time. Medicaid insurers are experienced in establishing narrow, low-cost provider networks that allow them to offer lower premiums than other insurers.”

UnitedHealthcare, for example, participated in just four regions included in the study in 2017, but had upped its participation to 11 for 2021. Aetna participated in three regions included in the study in 2017 before fully exiting the exchanges; CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch told investors earlier this year that the insurer plans to return to the marketplaces in 2022.

Several states have also launched programs that aim to lower premiums, according to the report. These include reinsurance programs, which have been rolled out in 12 states as of this year. Some states have also expanded Medicaid in recent years, which leads to some low-income people with costly health needs switching to that program, the researchers said.