Barr urges Trump administration to back off call to fully strike down Obamacare

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/05/politics/william-barr-obamacare-supreme-court/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0H0M_pTi9V9W4iEAqWTWKJzopzznh6202z0FgsMbthJS7oS-pDowVGc3M

Barr urges Trump administration to back off call to fully strike ...

Attorney General William Barr made a last-minute push Monday to persuade the administration to modify its position in the Obamacare dispute that will be heard at the Supreme Court this fall, arguing that the administration should pull back from its insistence that the entire law be struck down.

With a Wednesday deadline to make any alterations to its argument looming, Barr made his case in a room with Vice President Mike Pence, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, members of the Domestic Policy Council, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and several other officials. The meeting ended without a decision and it was not immediately not clear if any shift in the Trump administration’s position will emerge.
Barr and other top advisers have argued against the hard-line position for some time, warning it could have major political implications if the comprehensive health care law appears in jeopardy as voters head to the polls in November.
According to four sources familiar with the meeting, Barr argued for modifying the administration’s current stance to preserve parts of the law, rather than fully back the lawsuit filed by a group of Republican states. As it stands now, the Trump administration’s position seeks to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 and commonly known as Obamacare.
Barr and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have argued against supporting invalidating the law in full, engaging in a heated debate on this point with then-acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and policy officials allied with him, CNN reported last year. But Barr and others have recently brought an additional dimension to their efforts, highlighting the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the nation. If the justices were to accept the Trump administration position, its decision could cause substantial disruptions to the health care of millions of Americans and cause the uninsured rate to spike.
The Affordable Care Act is expected to serve as an important safety net for the millions of people who lose their jobs and work-based health insurance amid the pandemic. If the unemployment rate hits 15%, nearly 17.7 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored policies, according to a recent Urban Institute report. More than 8 million people could enroll in Medicaid, particularly in states that expanded the program to more low-income adults under the sweeping health care law. Also, more than 4 million people could obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges or other private policies, leaving just over 5 million uninsured, the report found.
Even before the pandemic, more than 11.4 million people signed up for Obamacare coverage for 2020 and roughly 12.5 million were enrolled in Medicaid expansion.
Trump’s domestic policy aides have resisted any change in the Trump administration’s legal arguments at this point, contending that the legal position should move forward without changes because Republicans have campaigned on repealing Obamacare for a decade. Those aides have brushed off the possibility of any new political repercussions, and pushed back on Barr in the meeting Monday.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The divide has been a long-running battle inside the administration, but it has a new sense of urgency because the administration is up against a deadline on Wednesday if it wants to modify its argument.
The administration currently contends that the individual insurance requirement is unconstitutional, and because that mandate is tied to other provisions of the law, the entire Affordable Care Act must fall. If the administration is going to back off that absolute position, it would likely submit a filing to the Supreme Court within the next 48 hours, based on the court’s current briefing schedule for the dueling parties. Otherwise, the administration’s brief would not be due to the high court until June.
Barr has long favored tempering the administration’s position, which has shifted multiple times since the lawsuit began in early 2018. The administration argued that only two key provisions that protect Americans with pre-existing conditions should fall, but the rest of the law could remain. In a dramatic reversal soon after Barr became attorney general in early 2019, the Justice Department said the entire Affordable Care Act should be invalidated. Several months later, the administration argued before a federal appeals court that the law should only be struck as it applies to the coalition of Republican-led states that brought the challenge.
The argument that the entire law should be struck down already might have been a tough one to make to a Supreme Court majority that has twice rejected broad-scale challenges.
After a decade, the Affordable Care Act has affected nearly every aspect of the health care system. It required all Americans obtain coverage and created a marketplace for purchasing insurance. It also expanded Medicaid for poor people and protected diabetics, cancer patients and other individuals with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums.
The current Supreme Court dispute began when Texas and other Republican-led states sued after the Republican-led Congress in 2017 cut the tax penalty for those who failed to obtain insurance to zero. Because the individual mandate is no longer tied to a specific tax penalty, the states argue, it is unconstitutional. They also say that because the individual mandate is intertwined with a multitude of ACA provisions, invalidating it should bring down the entire law, including protections for people with preexisting conditions.
On the other side are California and other Democratic-led states and the now Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives. The Affordable Care Act has remained in effect through the litigation.
The Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to take up the ACA dispute. The case is likely to be heard in the fall, but a decision would not be expected until 2021, after the November presidential election.
The case will mark the third time that the Supreme Court takes up a major ACA dispute. In 2012, the justices upheld the law, by a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts casting the deciding vote with the four liberal justices over the dissent of four conservatives. Roberts grounded his opinion in Congress’ taxing power.

 

 

 

The Supreme Court isn’t done with the ACA case yet. Here are the next steps.

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/the-supreme-court-isnt-done-with-the-aca-case-yet-here-are-the-next-steps/570816/

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to review the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Feb. 21 to potentially weigh whether to take the case. However, legal expert Katie Keith from Georgetown University cautioned Healthcare Dive it’s common for the court to reschedule or relist cases for a later conference date.

Tuesday’s one-sentence order from the U.S. Supreme Court denying a request to fast-track the challenge to the Affordable Care Act is not the final word from the high court.

The justices will now decide whether to take up the legal case threatening to overturn the landmark law during their next term, which begins in October.

Essentially, the order returns the case to the typical review process as a group of blue states, led by California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, try to convince the Supreme Court it should hear the case at some point instead of letting it wind its way back through the lower courts.

“The court did not say we’re not reviewing this case at all,” MaryBeth Musumeci, an associate director at Kaiser Family Foundation and graduate of Harvard Law School, told Healthcare Dive.

The blue states sought to expedite the case, which would have resulted in a ruling before the presidential election in November. Some Democrats hoped that would pressure Republicans to come up with a replacement had the law been tossed, or more publicly defend efforts that would kill popular provisions like protections for pre-existing conditions.

The court refused to accelerate its review despite requests from hospitals, insurers, advocacy groups including AARP and a group of bipartisan economic scholars.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not altogether unsurprising. They typically don’t like to grant expedited review,” Katie Keith, a lawyer and health policy expert at Georgetown University​, told Healthcare Dive.

Other legal experts warned against reading too much into Tuesday’s order and what it may mean for the case going forward.

“Expediting was always unlikely. It’s a big ask for little purpose here. I wouldn’t read anything else into it,” Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, told Healthcare Dive​.

Careful observers of the case should expect the justices to vote on whether to take it up by June at the latest, Keith said.

In the meantime, Tuesday’s order sets off another wave of briefs. First, the red states will try to convince the court of its position on whether the legal challenge should be heard in October. Expect that motion in the first few days of February, experts told Healthcare Dive.

Robert Henneke, the lawyer representing the individual plaintiffs, told Healthcare Dive his team will argue that the case is still premature for Supreme Court review. “The opinion from the Fifth Circuit was not a complete opinion,” Henneke said.

The appeals court in part affirmed a lower court’s decision, ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be considered a tax. However, it sent the key question of whether the rest of the ACA can stand without the mandate back to the lower court for further analysis.

Becerra has argued that the lower court’s decision is wrong and, without a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court, the challenge only fuels doubt about the future of the ACA — credited with significantly reducing the ranks of the uninsured.

“The health and wellbeing of millions of our loved ones who rely on the ACA for healthcare is too important. We will do everything in our power to keep fighting for them,” Becerra said in a tweet following the order.

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s result likely thrusts the issue of the ACA back in the spotlight for another presidential campaign cycle.

Much of the healthcare debate among Democrats vying to take on President Donald Trump has revolved around a “Medicare for All” idea. One question now is, will Democrats shift to talk about rescuing the ACA, a law in place but remains in jeopardy?

The problem is the outcome is still uncertain, Stephanie Kennan, senior vice president of federal public affairs at McGuireWoods Consulting, told Healthcare Dive. However, it does give Democrats the opportunity to talk about what’s popular in the bill, noting protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“It certainly gives them a springboard for them to talk about the things they could do to fix it,” Kennan said.

Despite Tuesday’s outcome, there will still be some Democratic contenders who will campaign for Medicare for All, Bill Jordan, chair of Alston and Bird’s healthcare litigation group, told Healthcare Dive. But this ruling gives Democrats another tool against Republicans, he said.

“As time has gone on, the Affordable Care Act has become more popular, not less popular,” Jordan said.

But he cautioned that anything can happen in the next election, which could entirely alter the political landscape and influence whether the case makes it back up to the Supreme Court if the justices pass this time.

 

 

 

 

Hospitals, insurers urge Supreme Court to hear ACA case to avert havoc

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospitals-insurers-urge-supreme-court-to-hear-aca-case-to-avert-havoc/570525/

Dive Brief:

  • The main lobbying groups for both the hospital and insurance industries filed amicus briefs Wednesday urging the Supreme Court to take on the controversial case seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
  • By sending the key question in the case back down to the lower court for a “do-over,” the appellate court’s ruling “casts a long shadow of uncertainty over ACA-based investments,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said in its brief.
  • Various hospital lobbying groups argued the case creates enormous uncertainty for industry, raising questions about whether they should continue to invest in the provisions that are so closely intertwined with the ACA, according to their brief.

Dive Insight:

Two courts have so far ruled against the landmark health law, finding that the individual mandate is unconstitutional because Congress stripped away the financial penalty for forgoing insurance coverage.

Without the financial penalty attached, the so-called individual mandate can no longer be considered a tax and is therefore unconstitutional, according to the courts. A lower court went even further than the appellate court and found that the entire law must fall because the mandate cannot be severed from the remainder of the ACA.

The appellate court avoided answering this key question regarding severability and sent it back to the lower court for additional analysis. The appellate court ruling generated outcry from industry, which argues the case will take years to wind its way through the courts leaving a cloud of uncertainty in its wake.

The ACA fundamentally reshaped the nation’s healthcare system and is credited with lowering the ranks of the uninsured by millions.

A coalition of blue states that stepped in to defend the law petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case and asked for an expedited review. Meanwhile, a group of red states looking to overturn the law has argued the case does not merit intervention from the high court.

After failed attempts by Republicans in Congress to kill the law entirely, in 2017 Congress cut the penalty for not having insurance coverage to zero in a unrelated tax bill. The red states and two individual plaintiffs from Texas have argued the move renders the law unconstitutional.

AHIP argues that the ACA can stand without the penalty (and has) since Congress’ changes in 2017.

“Congress has unmistakably indicated through its actions: that the ACA should continue in operation even in the absence of the individual mandate,” AHIP said in its brief, arguing a repeal of the law would “wreak havoc” on the nation’s healthcare system.

Other advocacy groups, including AARP, American Cancer Society and Small Business Majority filed separate briefs urging the Supreme Court to take on the case. A group of bipartisan economic scholars also submitted a brief in support of the Supreme Court taking on the case.

 

 

 

 

The Fifth Circuit Court Hears Arguments on the Future of the ACA

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/fifth-circuit-court-ruling-future-aca

columns at courthouse

The future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the millions of Americans who depend on it, and, frankly, the American health care system, every part of which is touched by the ACA, were on the line in a federal courthouse in New Orleans on Tuesday. The Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals heard 106 minutes of oral argument in the case of Texas v. U.S., in which a district court judge ruled that the entire ACA was invalid. The case is being pursued by 18 Republican states and two individuals, joined by the United States on the appeal. Twenty-one Democratic attorneys general (AGs) and the U.S. House of Representatives have intervened to defend the ACA.

The plaintiffs argue — in a decision accepted by district court Judge Reed O’Connor — that:

  • the Supreme Court in 2012 held that the ACA’s individual mandate was unconstitutional as a command, and constitutional only as a tax
  • Congress in 2017 zeroed out the tax, leaving the mandate entirely unconstitutional
  • the mandate is essential to the rest of the ACA, which must be invalidated once the mandate is struck down.

The defendants contest each of these claims and further argue that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring the case since they have not been injured by the mandate.

The case was heard by three judges: Carolyn Dineen King, appointed by President Jimmy Carter; Jennifer Walker Elrod, appointed by President George W. Bush; and Kurt D. Engelhardt, appointed by President Donald Trump. Judges Elrod and Engelhardt questioned the parties vigorously; Judge King did not speak during the proceeding.

Nearly half of the argument focused on the question of the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the action and of the Democratic AGs and House to appeal the judgment. Under the Constitution, federal courts can only hear a case challenging a law if at least one of the plaintiffs is actually injured by the law and can only hear an appeal if at least one of the appellants is affected by the judgment.

Judge Elrod seemed skeptical of the argument made by the appellant Democratic AGs that the zeroing out of the tax made compliance with the mandate optional and therefore incapable of harming the plaintiffs. Judges Elrod and Englehardt seemed to accept the plaintiffs’ argument that the mandate remains a legal command, and as such harms the individual plaintiffs by requiring them to buy insurance they do not want. Judge Elrod also suggested that the Republican states might have standing because they had to fill out tax forms related to the mandate.

All the parties agreed that the court had jurisdiction to hear the appeal and did not contest the fact that the invalidation of the ACA would cost the Democratic states a substantial amount of money, although Judge Elrod questioned whether the lower court’s order applied to the Democratic states.

Judges Elrod and Engelhardt also greeted skeptically the argument of the Democratic AGs and House that the 2017 tax bill did not affect the constitutionality of the mandate. The Democratic AGs and House argued that the Supreme Court held in 2012 that the ACA merely gave individuals subject to the mandate a choice between buying insurance or paying a tax. The tax bill did not change this; it simply made the tax optional. The plaintiff–appellees argued that with the tax zeroed out, the mandate was wholly unconstitutional. Judges Elrod and Englehardt seemed sympathetic to this argument, although Judge Elrod prodded the plaintiffs on their position.

The court seemed a bit more uncertain, however, on the consequences of holding the mandate unconstitutional on the rest of the ACA. The Republican AGs argued that the findings section of the ACA created an “inseverability clause” by declaring that the mandate was “essential” to — and thus not severable from — other sections of the ACA. The Democratic AGs and House disagreed, arguing that when Congress adopted the 2017 tax bill it clearly intended to affect no other provisions of the ACA.

The judges seemed unimpressed with the statements made by members of Congress to this effect, asking why Congress did not repeal the mandate or the findings if it meant to preserve the rest of the law. (In fact, Congress couldn’t have done so, since the tax bill was a budget reconciliation bill that could only address provisions with financial impact.) Judge Elrod suggested that some members of Congress might have seen the zeroing out of the mandate tax as a “silver bullet” to bring down the ACA, even though there is no evidence of this and it would impute to Congress the intent to create an unconstitutional law. Judge Engelhardt asked why the Senate was not involved in the case if their intent not to harm the law was so clear.

The position of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on severability was quite murky, frustrating the court. On one hand, the DOJ argued that the entire ACA was inseverable from the mandate and thus invalid. On the other, the DOJ contended that as a matter of remedy, the court (or the district court on remand) should only enjoin compliance of provisions that directly affected the plaintiffs; perhaps only in the states that had sued. Remanding to the district court would likely be a futile exercise. Judge O’Connor has already concluded that the entire statute is inseverable. At one point, as the court pressed the DOJ attorney to clarify his position, he responded, “A lot needs to get sorted out and it’s complicated.”

Judge Englehardt seemed to think the problem was essentially political and should be left to Congress to determine which provisions were invalidated and which survived. Accusing Congress of not taking responsibility to clean up the mess that would be caused by invalidation of the statute overlooks, however, the responsibility of the judiciary not to create the mess in the first place, as the district court has done in its sweeping decision. This is one of the reasons why existing law on severability directs courts to invalidate only so much of a law as is necessary when a provision is found to be unconstitutional.

Listening to the argument, one may conclude that judges Engelhardt and Elrod do not understand the scope of the ACA and the serious trouble that invalidating it in its entirety would cause for the American health care system. Suggesting that Congress could readily “fix” the problems caused by the lower court’s decision or that a supposed “fix” other than reversal is even needed — or possible — reveals a lack of understanding of the scope of the ACA and a frightening degree of irresponsibility.

There seems to be a real possibility, however, that the Fifth Circuit may affirm the lower court’s judgment. It will then again be up to the Supreme Court to sort things out. In the meantime, a Fifth Circuit decision invalidating the ACA will likely become a major issue in the 2020 election. We should see by the fall whether the questions pressed by the court today presage its conclusions.

 

 

 

There’s little chance appeals court will strike down ACA, legal experts say

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/legal/theres-little-chance-appeals-court-will-strike-down-aca-legal-experts-say?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-finance&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190708&utm_content=article3-readmore

Seven months after a federal judge struck down the Affordable Care Act, a coalition of 21 Democratic attorneys general will once again defend the landmark healthcare law in New Orleans on Tuesday. The challenge, if upheld, would have far-reaching consequences for millions of Americans and the healthcare companies that serve them.

Left-leaning and conservative legal experts alike say there’s little chance the three-judge panel in New Orleans agrees with the lower court and declare the ACA unconstitutional. The arguments used by the Republican states that sued to wipe out the ACA are “frivolous,” the experts say.

“This case is different from all of the previous Obamacare cases because there is a consensus among the Republican intellectual establishment that the legal arguments are frivolous,” said Yale University health law professor Abbe Gluck. “You’ve got a lot of prominent Republican legal experts siding against the Trump administration in this case, so I think that most people are hoping that this circuit will apply very settled law and reverse the lower-court decision.”

Even so, Democratic senators on Monday were worried that the ACA would ultimately be struck down, causing millions of Americans to lose their insurance and consumer protections overnight without any Trump administration plan to pick up the pieces.

“Make no mistake, this lawsuit has a good chance of succeeding,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said during a conference call Monday with reporters. “I understand that there are some legal scholars that say that the theory of the petitioners is wacky, but it survived the district court and it now has the administration as a full and complete partner with the attorneys general. There is real muscle on the side of the plaintiffs in this case.”


The appellate court arguments largely mirror those in the district court. This time around, the U.S. Justice Department is urging the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the lower-court ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act must fall because the 2017 Congress reduced the individual mandate penalty to zero. Previously, the Justice Department argued the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but could be “severed” from most of the ACA.

This question of whether the entire ACA must go is the crux of the case. Gluck explained that a non-controversial, settled legal doctrine called “severability” states that the decision to scrap a piece of a law or destroy the whole thing rests on what Congress would have wanted. That’s something courts usually have to guess, but in this case there’s no question what Congress would have wanted: it already zeroed-out the individual mandate penalty and left the rest of the ACA alone.

“It is an absolutely outrageous argument to say that the district court was doing what Congress wanted when Congress in 2017 reduced the penalty and left the entire statute standing,” Gluck said.

Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, similarly said, “These are bad legal arguments.”

The odds of the Fifth Circuit declaring the entire ACA unconstitutional are low, he said, given the arguments in the case “are thin to the point of frivolousness, and I think the Fifth Circuit judges will know that, whatever their political disposition may happen to be. But I’d be lying if I said I knew that for sure.”

The panel announced last week includes Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Kurt Englehardt and Carolyn Dineen King. Two were appointed by Republican presidents; one is a Democratic appointee. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who struck down the healthcare law, was also appointed by a Republican president.

Legal experts said it is also likely that oral arguments will devote time to whether the Democratic states and the U.S. House of Representatives have standing to intervene in the case. The Fifth Circuit judges last week asked for supplemental briefs on that question. While the court’s request was seen by some as a sign that it is supportive of the Republican states, others viewed it as normal, given the high stakes and the fact that the Justice Department declined to defend the law.

Gluck said it’s unlikely the court will decide neither the blue states or the House have standing in the case. It would be hard to argue that the Democrat-led states would not be harmed by a ruling that invalidates the entire ACA, and the House has previously intervened to defend a statute when the executive branch chose not to, she said.

But if the Fifth Circuit does decide neither have standing, it would have to decide whether to let the lower-court decision stand or erase it, she said.

Should the appellate court uphold the lower-court ruling, the consequences would be sweeping. In a June analysis, the left-leaning Urban Institute found that the number of uninsured Americans would climb 65% to 50.3 million in 2020 if the ACA is ultimately struck down. The decision would affect not only people who buy coverage in the individual market but also those with coverage through Medicaid expansion, Medicare and from their employers.

That would also impact healthcare providers and insurers.

“No industry has been more directly impacted by the ACA than health insurance providers, which have invested vast amounts of resources to participate in the relevant markets, comply with the law’s myriad reforms, and organize their businesses to operate in a revamped healthcare system,” insurance industry lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans wrote in an amicus brief filed in April in support of reversing the lower-court decision.