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.”

 

 

Health Law Could Be Hard to Knock Down Despite Judge’s Ruling

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Could a federal judge in Texas be the catalyst that finally brings down the Affordable Care Act, a law that has withstood countless assaults from Republicans in Congress and two Supreme Court challenges?

On the morning after Judge Reed O’Connor’s startling ruling that struck down the landmark health law, legal scholars were doubtful.

Lawyers on both sides of previous A.C.A. battles said the reasoning behind this one was badly flawed, notably in its insistence that the entire 2010 law must fall because one of its provisions may have been rendered invalid by the 2017 tax overhaul legislation. Had Congress meant to take such radical action, they said, it would have said so at the time.

Legal experts also noted that the Supreme Court, where most people believe the case is headed, historically has been reluctant to strike down federal laws, particularly those that have become ingrained in the lives of millions of citizens.

For now, the ruling is unlikely to affect the more than 23 million people who get health coverage through the insurance marketplaces set up by the law and the expansion of Medicaid in 36 states. The Trump administration immediately said — despite the president’s gleeful tweets hailing the decision — that it would continue to enforce the law until the appeals process plays out, which could take more than a year. That will ensure that the American health care system, which has been operating under the law for more than five years, will not be thrown into immediate chaos.

Judge O’Connor, who was appointed by George W. Bush to the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, has ruled against laws supporting immigration, transgender and Native American rights. Conservative lawyers are known to choose his district to file cases, hoping he will fire opening salvos that propel their issues through the court system.

The crux of Judge O’Connor’s decision centered on the health law’s requirement that most people have health coverage or pay a tax penalty.

That tax penalty was effectively eliminated when Congress reduced its amount to zero in the tax legislation enacted last year. And once the tax penalty no longer stood, the so-called “individual mandate” was unconstitutional and the entire law had to fall, the judge reasoned in accepting the argument of the 20 states that brought the lawsuit challenging the legislation.

But an array of legal experts said that argument was unsound. Jonathan H. Adler, a conservative law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, called that position “simply nonsensical” and said the judge’s conclusion was “hard to justify” and “surprisingly weak.”

He and others pointed to the fact that even though Congress erased the tax penalty, it did not touch the rest of the sprawling health act. A longstanding legal doctrine called “severability” holds that when a court excises one provision of a statute, it should leave the rest of the law in place unless Congress explicitly stated that the statute could not survive without that provision.

In this case Congress’s intention was particularly clear, legal experts said.

“Congress amended one provision of a 2,000 page law and did not touch the rest of the law so it is implausible to believe that Congress intended the rest of the law not to exist,” said Abbe R. Gluck, a health law expert at Yale Law School.

Judge O’ Connor also cited congressional intent, focusing on language from the 2010 law, which underscored the significance of the individual mandate to the entire act. But he largely ignored the 2017 congressional action. In essence, legal scholars said, he looked to one congressional view and not the more recent one.

And in so doing, he opened the door for House Democrats to intervene in successive appeals. On Saturday aides to Representative Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become the next speaker of the House, said she would move quickly to notify the Trump administration that House Democrats intended to step in to defend the law in the case.

As the legal showdown plays out, efforts to protect the A.C.A. are also underway in the courts. Earlier this year the state attorney general of Maryland sued the Trump administration for attempting to gut the act. The case is pending.

Nicholas Bagley, a health law expert at the University of Michigan, suggested that Judge O’Connor may not yet be done with the case. In a series of tweets on Saturday, Mr. Bagley noted that the judge had not yet addressed a handful of central issues in the suit, nor had he issued a final ruling indicating whether the act should fall immediately. Judge O’Connor could indeed hold onto the case before an appellate court takes it up.

But if he lets the case move forward, a likely timeline, according to many legal experts, is that the case will be taken up by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans this spring. If the Fifth Circuit upholds Judge O’Connor’s decision, the Supreme Court is likely to agree to hear the case in its term that starts in October 2019, with a decision in 2020. If the Fifth Circuit overturns the judge’s ruling and upholds the law, there is a good chance the Supreme Court would decline to even take the case, legal scholars said.

One law professor, Ilya Somin of George Mason University, criticized parts of the opinion, but said he was “a bit less confident about the outcome” because “the history of A.C.A.-related litigation is filled with surprises and failed predictions by experts.”

Among the observations flying about was the notion that the Supreme Court only rarely strikes down federal laws, and it is particularly reluctant to do so when the laws have been in place for years and affect millions of people. In fact, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in his 2012 opinion upholding the health care law, that the court should err on the side of sustaining federal laws.

“As between two possible interpretations of a statute, by one of which it would be unconstitutional and by the other valid,” he wrote, quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., “our plain duty is to adopt that which will save the act.”

The five justices who voted to uphold the law in a landmark 2012 case, including Justice Roberts, are all still on the court.

 

 

 

 

On Health Care, Dems Go From Running to Baby Steps

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Incremental measures will dominate action on the health law in a largely gridlocked Congress.

The midterm elections all but ended the Republican push to repeal the 2010 law known as Obamacare, but as a defining issue for Democrats in their takeover of the House, health care will likely remain near the top of lawmakers’ policy and political agenda.

Newly emboldened Democrats are expected to not only push legislation through the House, but use their majority control of key committees to press Trump administration officials on the implementation of the health law, Medicaid work requirements, and insurance that does not have to comply with Obamacare rules.

Both parties are looking to address issues that voters prioritized, such as lowering prescription drug prices, though different approaches by Republicans and Democrats could mean incremental changes stand a better chance of enactment than any major bill.

Early on, lawmakers may find themselves dealing with the fallout of a court ruling that could overturn the law’s mandate that health insurance cover pre-existing conditions, putting Congress on the spot in the face of widespread voter support for those protections.

All of these issues, which dominated this year’s elections, will play out against the backdrop of the next congressional and presidential contests.

“In a lot of ways, the purpose of legislation in this Congress for the Democrats is going to be to set the agenda for the 2020 election,” said Dan Mendelson, the founder of the consulting firm Avalere.

Drug prices

Lowering drug prices is a top priority for House Democrats and President Donald Trump. Leaders of both parties identified this issue last week as a possible area for bipartisanship.

But Democrats’ more ambitious plans, like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, aren’t expected to advance in the Republican Senate. Instead, issues like increasing transparency or speeding up approvals for new treatments could be ones where both parties can find agreement.

Texas Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a contender to lead the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, is pushing a measure that would require HHS to negotiate prices for drugs covered by the Medicare Part D program. While most Democrats say they back price negotiations, there will likely be debate within the party about the details, particularly if they seem to be close to the government setting prices.

“When you start getting into anything that looks like price controls, you might get some bipartisan support for, but you also might get bipartisan support against,” said Ben Isgur, the leader of PwC’s Health Research Institute.

Democrats’ other focal points center on price-gouging for pharmaceuticals, which gained significant attention in recent years. The House Democrats’ “Better Deal” legislative agenda envisions a “price-gouging” enforcer, which would be a Senate-confirmed position to lead a new agency focused on stopping significant price increases for prescription drugs. Democrats also hope to require drug manufacturers to provide data to justify significant price increases.

Their plan would require drugmakers to justify price increases of certain amounts at least 30 days before they take effect.

Leaders in both parties have said since the election that drug pricing will be on the agenda, but have appeared skeptical of whether their efforts would yield a successful outcome.

“The jury’s out in my mind,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal said in a call with reporters last week. “If he is serious about taking on those pharmaceutical drug companies and ensuring that we can really get prescriptions filled for our seniors and negotiate prices for our pharmaceutical drugs the way we do for our VA, then we might have something we can work on.”

Mendelson predicted that even if a major bipartisan agreement to lower prices doesn’t advance in the next Congress, the Trump administration will keep taking steps that could eventually lower prices. Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has earned bipartisan praise for speeding new drug approvals, for instance.

The Trump administration could try to stay in command of drug pricing politics ahead of the 2020 election, he added, although Democrats will also seek to control the issue.

“There could well be significant progress over the next year or two because the administration has a lot of authority and they will use it to neutralize the issue before the 2020 election,” said Mendelson, a former Clinton administration official.

Health care law

The electrifying election-year issue of pre-existing condition protections is likely to win a House vote as Democrats seek to prove their commitment to that popular part of the law.

Both parties are bracing for a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas in a lawsuit filed by 20 state officials seeking to overturn the 2010 law. O’Connor heard oral arguments in September, although the Trump administration asked to delay a ruling until after the open enrollment period ends on Dec. 15.

If O’Connor strikes down all or part of the health care law, Democrats expect a group of state attorneys general defending the law to seek an immediate injunction and appeal the decision. Legal scholars on both sides of the aisle question the arguments of those attempting to kill the law, but the case could reach the Supreme Court.

House Democrats plan to consider a bill by Rep. Jacky Rosen of Nevada who won a Senate bid last week, that would allow the House to intervene in the case and defend the health law, aides say.

Across the Capitol, 10 Senate Republicans introduced a bill this summer to guarantee coverage of pre-existing conditions, which GOP aides say could be part of a response to the lawsuit.

Democrats have criticized the Senate GOP bill because it doesn’t require insurers to cover certain services for patients with pre-existing conditions. Republicans like North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who sponsored the measure, defend it.

“If they do strike down large parts of the legislation, Sen. Tillis’ bill could be one important part of a larger health care legislative effort,” said Adam Webb, a spokesman for Tillis.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky declined to reveal after the election how the chamber would respond to a ruling striking down parts of the law, but called for bipartisan fixes to the health law.

A draft bipartisan stabilization bill, which has been at an impasse for nearly a year, could re-emerge in the next Congress, but it’s not clear if lawmakers can resolve a fight over abortion restrictions that blocked an agreement or how that measure could change a year later.

“The first thing we need to do is stop Republican attacks on coverage of pre-existing conditions, stop any movement toward extending these short-term plans,” Iowa Rep.-elect Cindy Axne, who defeated Rep. David Young, said in a call with reporters last week.

Top Democrats — Frank Pallone Jr.Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, and Robert C. Scott of Virginia, who are expected to chair the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Workforce committees, respectively — introduced legislation this year to shore up the health law. It would increase the size of the tax credits that help people pay their premiums and expand eligibility. It would also block Trump administration rules to expand health plans that don’t meet the 2010 law’s requirements.

Aides caution the bill could see minor changes next year based on developments since it was introduced in March and say it could be tied into a stabilization debate.

Since falling short in their efforts to overhaul the law last year, Senate Republicans pivoted to rising health care costs, a focus that will likely extend into next year. Several senators showed interest in legislation to prevent surprise medical bills, but it’s not clear what other topics could lead to bipartisan agreement, which will still be needed in the Senate even with a larger Republican majority.

Oversight

Oversight of the health care law will dominate House action on the health law in a largely gridlocked Congress. House Democrats plan to bring administration officials to Capitol Hill to explain what critics call “sabotage” of the law’s insurance exchanges.

“We’ll be looking at what they’re doing administratively to undermine the operations of the Affordable Care Act and what consequences they may have caused to literally millions of people,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters in September.

Oversight could touch on issues such as Trump’s funding cuts to outreach and advertising for the exchanges, reductions in enrollment help and the effects of repealing the law’s mandate to get coverage.

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who is expected to lead the House Oversight Committee, will likely rev up an investigation into drug companies high prices that he has been conducting as ranking member and could bring executives in to testify before the panel.

In a post-election press conference, the presumed incoming House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, highlighted the Energy and Commerce Committee as another “big oversight committee” that will be active.

“We do not intend to abandon or relinquish our responsibility … for accountability, for oversight and the rest,” said Pelosi. “This doesn’t mean we go looking for a fight, but it means that if we see a need to go forward, we will.”

 

Supreme Court to hear DSH payments case

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/supreme-court-to-hear-dsh-payments-case/533427/

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Thursday to review an appellate court ruling that HHS improperly changed the reimbursement formula for Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments.
  • The crux of the case is whether HHS violated federal law by making the change in the DSH reimbursement calculation without public notice and comment.
  • At stake for HHS is up to $4 billion in DSH reimbursements made between FY 2005 and 2013. 

Dive Insight:

Policy changes since 2010 have cut payments to hospitals by billions of dollars, a report earlier this year from consulting firm Dobson DaVanzo & Associates forecast, with a prediction the cuts would reach $218.2 billion by 2028.​

The cuts include $25.9 billion for Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, a key source of financing for hospitals that serve low-income populations.

HHS petitioned the high court to hear the case after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Minneapolis-based Allina Health Services and a group of hospitals. The decision, written by embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, overturned a lower court ruling that sided with HHS.

In his 2017 opinion, Kavanaugh concluded that HHS violated the Medicare Act when it revised its reimbursement adjustment formula with going through the usual rulemaking process. In particular, he rejected the government’s argument that the notice-and-comment requirement for regulations setting or modifying a “substantive legal standard” does not apply to “interpretive rules.

Kavanaugh also held that HHS erred in including Medicare Part C enrollees with Part A enrollees in its new DSH payment calculations.

“That difference in interpretation makes a huge difference in the real world,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Part C enrollees tend to be wealthier than Part A enrollees. Including Part C days in Medicare fractions therefore tends to lead to lower reimbursement rates. Ultimately, millions of dollars are at stake for the Government and the hospitals.”

In its petition, HHS maintains that the appellate court’s decision would “significantly impair” its ability to administer annual Medicare reimbursements through the third-party contractors it employs to pay hospitals.

“The court of appeals’ decision threatens to undermine HHS’s ability to administer the Medicare Program in a workable manner,” the petition states. Given the time and cost involved in formal rulemaking, “converting the agency’s non-binding manuals and other interpretive materials into regulations requiring notice and comment would jeopardize the flexibility needed in light of Medicare’s complex and frequently changing statutory context and administrative developments.”