Can States Fill the Gap if the Federal Government Overturns Preexisting-Condition Protections?

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/can-states-fill-gap-preexisting-condition-protections

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Once again, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is under threat, this time in the form of Texas v. Azar, a federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. This litigation, now under consideration by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, took an unexpected turn in March when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sided with the plaintiffs, urging the Court to strike the ACA down in its entirety.

On May 1, the administration filed a brief in support of this action. But even before this suit, DOJ had refused to defend key provisions that guarantee coverage of preexisting conditions. If the courts agree with the DOJ, it would invalidate every provision of the 2010 law.

As many as 20 million people nationwide would lose their coverage, while millions more could face insurance company denials, premium surcharges, or high out-of-pocket costs because of their health status.

ACA Protections for People with Preexisting Conditions

  • Guaranteed issue. Health insurers are prohibited from denying an individual or employer group a policy based on their health status.
  • Community rating. Health insurers may not use an individual or small employer group’s health status to set premiums.
  • Preexisting condition exclusions. Health insurers and employer group plans are prohibited from refusing to cover services needed to treat a preexisting condition.
  • Essential health benefits. Health insurers selling to individuals and small employers must cover a minimum set of 10 “essential” benefits: ambulatory services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.
  • Cost-sharing protections. Health insurers and employer group plans must cap the amount enrollees pay out-of-pocket for health care services each year.
  • Annual and lifetime limits. Health insurers and employer group plans are prohibited from imposing annual or lifetime dollar limits on essential health benefits.
  • Preventive services. Health insurers and employer group plans are required to cover evidence-based preventive services without any enrollee cost-sharing.
  • Nondiscrimination. Health insurers must implement benefit designs for individuals and small employers that do not discriminate based on age, disability, or expected length of life.

To help blunt potential fallout and prevent adverse effects for millions of individuals, several states are enacting bills to ensure that federal ACA protections become part of state law (see box). However, before the ACA, state efforts to require insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions resulted in large premium spikes and, in some cases, caused insurers to exit the market.

The ACA’s premium subsidies have had a critical stabilizing effect. If those subsidies are invalidated, states will have a hard time restoring them with state dollars. In addition, state regulation of self-funded employer plans is preempted under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), meaning the 61 percent of people with this type of job-based coverage can regain their protections under the ACA only if Congress steps in to restore them.

States Are Stepping Up, but Power to Fully Protect Consumers Is Limited

In a previous post, we found that at least four states (Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia) had laws that would preserve key ACA preexisting-condition protections if the federal law is overturned. Since that time, seven more states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland,1 New Mexico, and Washington) have acted to preserve the ACA’s protections for their residents.

These bills take different approaches. Maine, New Mexico, and Washington passed comprehensive bills that would preserve all the protections listed above. The Connecticut, Hawaii, and Indiana laws are more narrowly focused. Hawaii and Indiana prohibit insurers from imposing preexisting condition exclusions; Connecticut aligns its benefit standards with the ACA. Maryland took a different approach, creating a workgroup to recommend ways to protect residents if the ACA is struck down. The governors of New Jersey and Rhode Island have issued executive orders directing their state agencies to uphold the ACA’s principles, by guarding against discrimination based on preexisting conditions and strengthening consumer protections to ensure access to affordable coverage.

Looking Forward

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments in Texas v. Azar in July. Whatever that court decides, the losing party is likely to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, and a ruling could come as soon as June 2020. With the future of the ACA hanging in the balance, at least 14 other states are considering legislation codifying some of the federal consumer protections during their 2019 sessions.

 

 

 

DOJ supports striking entire ACA: 5 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/doj-supports-striking-entire-aca-5-things-to-know.html

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In a March 25 court filing, the Department of Justice said it supports a judge’s ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be invalidated, according to CNN.

Five things to know:

1. In December, a federal judge in Texas held that the ACA is unconstitutional. He sided with the Republican-led states that brought the lawsuit, Texas v. United States, calling for the entire ACA to be struck down because Congress eliminated the healthcare law’s individual insurance mandate penalty.

2. The case is now pending in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a filing with the appellate court on March 25, the Justice Department said it supports the federal judge’s ruling that invalidated the ACA.

3. “The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” lawyers for the Justice Department wrote to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Politico. “[T]he United States is not urging that any portion of the district court’s judgment be reversed.”

4. The filing signals a major shift in the Justice Department’s position. When Jeff Sessions was attorney general, the administration argued only certain parts of the ACA, like protections for people with pre-existing conditions, should be struck down, but the rest of the law could stand, according to CNN.

5. A coalition of Democratic-led states is challenging the Texas ruling. Regardless of the outcome, the 5th Circuit’s ruling is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, according to Politico.

Access the full CNN article here.

Access the full Politico article here.

 

 

Trump admin now backs elimination of ACA in court

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/trump-admin-now-backs-elimination-of-aca-in-court/551319/

UPDATED: AHA blasted the decision, calling it “unprecedented and unsupported” by law or facts and warned it would lead to repeal of Medicaid expansion and gut protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Dive Brief:

  • The Trump administration has reversed its stance on the Affordable Care Act, arguing in a court filing Monday that the entire law should be eliminated instead of just removing provisions protecting people with preexisting conditions.
  • The move came hours after Democratic attorneys general defending the ACA filed their brief arguing that the landmark law is still constitutional even without an effective individual mandate penalty. Both filings are in the Fifth Circuit following an appeal of a Texas judge’s decision from December declaring the law unconstitutional after Congress set the mandate penalty to zero in tax overhaul legislation. That decision was stayed pending appeal.
  • Industry groups lambasted the administration’s about-face. America’s Health Insurance Plans CEO Matt Eyles said in a statement the decision was, like the Texas ruling, “misguided and wrong.” He added the payer lobby “will continue to engage on this issue as it continues through the appeals process so we can support and strengthen affordable coverage for every American.” Federation of American Hospitals CEO Chip Kahn said in a statement the decision is “unfortunate but not unexpected considering [the administration’s] long-held views on the health law.”

Dive Insight:

Elimination of the ACA would be a particular blow for some payers that have found increasing profitability in the individual market. Centene and Molina have found success with the exchanges and have expanded their footprints.

It would also put major hospital chains in a bad spot. Companies like HCA, Tenet and Community Health Systems have exposure that could subject them to reduced patient volumes and more bad debt, Leerink analyst Ana Gupte said when the Texas ruling first came down.

Public support for the ACA has gradually increased over the years, and the latest polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows about 53% of respondents giving a favorable view and 40% unfavorable. Individual components of the law are even more popular.

The ACA, which just days ago marked its ninth anniversary, brought forth massive change in American healthcare. A repeal of the law would do the same, stripping insurance coverage for as many as 17 million people.

The Trump administration’s new stance presents an intensely stark contrast with the growing field of Democratic presidential contenders, who have shifted the healthcare conversation to the left as the 2020 field shapes up. Candidates have proposed various forms of Medicare for all as well as scaled back versions that still greatly expand government coverage.

It moves the DOJ away from even some Republicans. During last year’s midterms a few GOP candidates said they approved of the ACA’s most popular element — protection for people with preexisting conditions (although voting records didn’t necessarily back them up).

Most Democrats in Congress aren’t fully backing any single-payer model at the moment, but their support for the ACA is strong. Democrats in the House of Representatives are expected to announce a legislative package Tuesday that would strengthen the ACA by eliminating short-term health plans that don’t comply with the law and increasing subsidies for exchange plans.

Since the GOP’s quite public failure to repeal the law two years ago, efforts to do so through Congress have sputtered to nearly a halt. Instead, the Trump administration started chipping away at the law’s provisions. It cut the open enrollment period for ACA plans, as well as the advertising budget for promoting sign-ups, and stopped cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers.

More recently, HHS has bolstered short-term and association health plans that offer cheap but skimpy coverage not in line with ACA requirements. Analysts fear proliferation of these plans could draw young and healthy people away from the exchanges, jeopardizing the stability of the risk pool.

A Democratic-led House panel launched an investigation into short-term plans and is requesting documents from Anthem and UnitedHealth Group, among other companies.

The legal issue at hand is known as severability — the question of whether a single provision of the law, in this case the individual mandate, becoming unenforceable invalidates the entire statute. The mandate was also the key question in the original U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the ACA to move forward.

The high court has since lurched to the right, which is notable if the appeal on the Texas ruling reaches that stage, although that would likely be far down the road.

 

 

 

Trump’s all-or-nothing gamble

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-2bc1069a-f66e-4a33-8406-763284c3a0e1.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

The Trump administration’s new legal argument against the Affordable Care Act is a political risk. It may also be a liability in court.

How it works: The legal issue here is “severability” — if the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, can it be struck down in isolation? Or is it too intertwined with other parts of the law?

Flashback: We’ve seen this movie before — in 2012, at the Supreme Court.

  • According to behind-the-scenes reporting from the 2012 ACA case, four conservative justices wanted to strike down the entire law. Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly wanted to strike down the mandate and protections for pre-existing conditions while leaving the rest intact.
  • But the other conservatives wouldn’t budge, and faced with a choice between upholding or striking down the whole thing, Roberts chose the former.

The Justice Department has now forced that same all-or-nothing decision into the case now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“There’s no way they were getting Roberts’ vote anyway … but this won’t help,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University who helped spearhead a different challenge to the ACA.

  • “It’s contrary to everything he’s ever said and done on severability,” Adler argues.

It may not get that far. “I think the states ultimately lose,” Adler said. “I think the most likely outcome is they lose in the 5th Circuit. If they don’t lose at the 5th Circuit, they will lose at the Supreme Court.”

If that’s what happens, adopting this riskier legal strategy may ultimately be the only thing that saves Republicans from the political nightmare of wiping out 20 million people’s health care coverage with no strategy on how to replace it.

  • I’ll spare you a long list of quotes from President Trump’s trip to Capitol Hill yesterday. Suffice it to say that no, Republicans still do not have a plan for what happens next if they finally succeed in killing the ACA. Some things never change.

 

 

 

Justice Dept. now wants the entire ACA struck down

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-badd31d3-c5eb-4423-9cfa-b5d6ea8e7daa.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

The Justice Department now wants the courts to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act — not just its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

This is a stunning escalation, raising both the real-world and political stakes in a lawsuit where both the real-world and political stakes were already very high.

Where it stands: Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in December that the ACA’s individual mandate has become unconstitutional, and that the whole law must fall along with it.

  • At the time, the Trump administration argued that the courts should only throw out the mandate and protections for pre-existing conditions — not the whole law.
  • But in a one-page filing last night, DOJ said the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals should affirm O’Connor’s entire ruling.

Why it matters: If DOJ ultimately gets its way here, the ripple effects would be cataclysmic. The ACA’s insurance exchanges would go away. So would its Medicaid expansion. Millions would lose their coverage.

  • The FDA would lose have the authority to approve an entire class of drugs.
  • The federal government would lose a lot of its power to test new payment models — in fact, the administration is relying on some of those ACA powers as it explores conservative changes to Medicaid.

Politically, this makes no sense. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi must be dancing in the streets.

  • Health care — specifically pre-existing conditions — was overwhelmingly a winning issue for Democrats in 2018.
  • This lawsuit already had Republicans in an unpleasant bind.
  • Now the administration is doubling down, putting even more people’s coverage on the chopping block.

What they’re saying:

  • “The bad faith on display here is jaw-dropping,” pro-ACA legal expert Nick Bagley writes.
  • “I was among those who cheered the selection of William Barr as Attorney General and hoped his confirmation would herald the elevation of law over politics within the Justice Department. I am still hopeful, but this latest filing is not a good sign,” said Jonathan Adler, a conservative law professor who helped spearhead the last big ACA lawsuit.

 

 

 

The Trump Administration Now Thinks the Entire ACA Should Fall

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/the-trump-administration-now-thinks-the-entire-aca-must-fall/

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In a stunning, two-sentence letter submitted to the Fifth Circuit today, the Justice Department announced that it now thinks the entire Affordable Care Act should be enjoined. That’s an even more extreme position than the one it advanced at the district court in Texas v. Azar, when it argued that the court should “only” zero out the protections for people with preexisting conditions.

The bad faith on display here is jaw-dropping. Does the administration really think that the very position it advanced just month ago is so untenable that it must now adopt an even crazier view?

Much as it may dislike the fact, the Trump administration has an obligation to defend acts of Congress. Absent that obligation, the sitting administration could pick and choose which laws it wants to defend, and which it wants to throw under the bus. Indeed, the decision not to defend is close cousin to a decision not to enforce the law. If the ACA really is unconstitutional, wouldn’t continuing to apply the law would violate the very Constitution that empowers the President to act?

Even apart from that, the sheer reckless irresponsibility is hard to overstate. The notion that you could gut the entire ACA and not wreak havoc on the lives of millions of people is insane. The Act  is now part of the plumbing of the health-care system. Which means the Trump administration has now committed itself to a legal position that would inflict untold damage on the American public.

And for what? Every reputable commentator — on both the left and the right — thinks that Judge O’Connor’s decision invalidating the entire ACA is a joke. To my knowledge, not one has defended it. This is not a “reasonable minds can differ” sort of case. It is insanity in print.

Yet here we are. An administration that claims to support protections for people with preexisting conditions has now called for undoing not only the parts of the ACA that protect such conditions, but also the entire Medicaid expansion and parts of the law that shield those with employer-sponsored insurance from punitive annual or lifetime caps. Not to mention hundreds of rules having nothing to do with health insurance, including a raft of new taxes, mandatory labeling of calorie counts at chain restaurants, and rules governing biosimilars.

Maybe you think this level of disdain for an Act of Congress is to be expected from the Trump administration. Maybe it’s too much to process because of Russia and immigration and North Korea. But this is not business as usual. This is far beyond the pale. And it is a serious threat to the rule of law.

 

 

Supreme Court hears case over disproportionate share hospital payments

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/supreme-court-hears-hospital-case-over-disproportionate-share-hospital-payments?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWW1KbFlXUTRPV1V6WlRjeSIsInQiOiJ1VTVCYWtvaUMwRXRLbGd2N1BTSlhLVjYrT0VjdEpVdUlKc0hhaEVYZ3d1UjdORUp3RzkrNWd6Zjl0elwvSkwyMlwvMkxDSjZxN3I0alVzV1ZwbjZ0R0xBU3o4QWZpUlhsdkl0czMxMWY5MUVuV1hpWUxNeDhEXC9rcjg2Y01nYXA5VCJ9

Hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursement are at stake; $3-4 billion from 2005 to 2013.

The Supreme Court was expected to hear oral arguments today over notice and rulemaking requirements for Medicare reimbursement.

The outcome of Azar vs. Allina Health Services could greatly affect reimbursement for hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of low-income patients. The DSH payment calculation is based on the percentage of low-income patients served.

The government wants to add Part C, or Medicare Advantage beneficiaries into the calculation, a move hospitals fear would decrease payments based on their belief that MA members are, on average, wealthier than Medicare Part A beneficiaries.

But the lawsuit is about how the Department of Health and Human Services went about attempting to implement its rule.

The hospitals in the lawsuit argue that HHS is required to conduct notice and comment rulemaking before providing the instructions to a Medicare administrative contractor that makes the initial determinations of payments due under Medicare. Medicare uses private contractors to administer its reimbursements to providers.

The case went to the District of Columbia Circuit Court, which vacated the rule. The hospitals argue that after the circuit court’s decision, CMS simply tried to make the same change without undertaking notice and comment.

The judge in the District of Columbia Circuit Court case was Brett Kavanaugh, who as Supreme Court Justice, is recusing himself in the HHS case Azar vs. Allina Health.

WHY THIS MATTERS

CMS’s proposed rule changes affect hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursement for hospitals. The government estimates that the DSH payments from 2005 to 2013 totaled $3 to $4 billion, according to SCOTUSblog.

Hospitals suing HHS said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “botched” attempted rulemaking in 2004, when the department tried to change the standard governing Medicare payment to hospitals nationwide for services furnished to low-income patients.

The Medicare Act requires the agency to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking, the hospitals argue.

HHS disagrees, saying the Medicare Act does not require HHS to issue formal notice-and-comment rulemaking prior to changing the DSH calculation formula. Doing so would cripple the Medicare program, requiring the agency to use rulemaking for any change in its lengthy and detailed operations manuals, it argues.

The hospitals involved in the lawsuit are Allina Health System and its affiliated hospitals, Abbott Northwestern, United, and Unity; Florida Health Sciences Center; Montefiore Medical Center; Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian/Queens; New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital; and New York and Presbyterian Hospital.

ON THE RECORD

“The agency botched that rulemaking: the final rule was not the ‘logical outgrowth’ of the proposed rule, and the D.C. Circuit vacated it,” Allina and other health systems said.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in court documents, “As the government has explained, respondents’ theory, if adopted, has the potential to substantially undermine effective administration of the Medicare program, not least because its rationale would encompass not just the Medicare fractions at issue here but nearly every instruction to the agency’s contractors, including those contained in the Provider Reimbursement Manual.”