Fed appeals court panel says most Obamacare subsidies illegal

22 Jul

OBAMACARE

Dan Mangan
CNBC.com

In a potentially crippling blow to Obamacare, a federal appeals court panel declared Tuesday that government subsidies worth billions of dollars that helped 4.7 million people buy insurance on HealthCare.gov are illegal.

A judicial panel in a 2-1 ruling said such subsidies can be granted only to those people who bought insurance in an Obamacare exchange run by an individual state or the District of Columbia — not on the federally run exchange HealthCare.gov.

“Section 36B plainly makes subsidies available in the Exchanges established by states,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph in his majority opinion, where he was joined by Judge Thomas Griffith. “We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance. At least until states that wish to can set up their own Exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly.”

In his dissent, Judge Harry Edwards, who called the case a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut” Obamacare, wrote that the judgment of the majority “portends disastrous consequences.”

Indeed, the decision threatens to unleash a cascade of effects that could seriously compromise Obamacare’s goals of compelling people to get health insurance, and helping them afford it.

The Obama administration is certain to ask the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reverse the panel’s decision, which for now does not have the rule of law.

The ruling endorsed a controversial interpretation of the Affordable Care Act that argues that the HealthCare.gov subsidies are illegal because ACA does not explicitly empower a federal exchange to offer subsidized coverage, as it does in the case of state-created exchanges. Subsidies for more than 2 million people who bought coverage on state exchanges would not be affected by Tuesday’s ruling if it is upheld.

HealthCare.gov serves residents of the 36 states that did not create their own health insurance marketplace. About 4.7 million people, or 86 percent of all HealthCare.gov enrollees, qualified for a subsidy to offset the cost of their coverage this year because they had low or moderate incomes.

If upheld, the ruling could lead many, if not most of those subsidized customers to abandon their health plans sold on HealthCare.gov because they no longer would find them affordable without the often-lucrative tax credits. And if that coverage then is not affordable for them as defined by the Obamacare law, those people will no longer be bound by the law’s mandate to have health insurance by this year or pay a fine next year.

If there were to be a large exodus of subsidized customers from the HealthCare.gov plans, it would in turn likely lead to much higher premium rates for nonsubsidized people who would remain in those plans.

The ruling also threatens, in the same 36 states, to gut the Obamacare rule starting next year that all employers with 50 or more full-time workers offer affordable insurance to them or face fines. That’s because the rule only kicks in if one of such an employers’ workers buy subsidized covered on HealthCare.gov.

The decision by the three-judge panel is the most serious challenge to the underpinnings of the Affordable Care Act since a challenge to that law’s constitutionality was heard by the Supreme Court. The high court in 2012 upheld most of the ACA, including the mandate that most people must get insurance or pay a fine.

If the Obama administration fails to prevail in its expected challenge to Tuesday’s bombshell ruling, it can ask the Supreme Court to reverse it.

A high court review is guaranteed if another federal appeals court circuit rules against plaintiffs in a similar case challenging the subsidies. And the only other circuit currently considering such a case, the Fourth Circuit, is expected by both sides to rule against plaintiffs there in a decision that is believed to be imminent.

Tuesday’s ruling focused on the plaintiffs’ claim that the ACA, in several of its sections, says that subsidies from the federal government in the form of tax credits can be issued through an exchange established by a state.

The law also says that if a state chooses not to set up its own exchange, the federal government can establish its own marketplace to sell insurance in such states.

However, the ACA does not explicitly say, as it does in the case of state-run exchanges, that subsidies can be given to people who buy insurance on a federal exchange.

The plaintiffs’ claim has been met with derision by Obamacare supporters, who argue that it relies on a narrow reading, or even misreading of the law. Those supporters said the claim ignores its overarching intent: to provide affordable insurance to millions of people who were previously uninsured.

Supporters argue that the legality of the subsidies to HealthCare.gov enrollee derives from the fact that the law explicitly anticipated the potential need to create an exchange in the event that a state chose not to.

When the ACA was passed, most supporters believed that the vast majority of states would create their own exchange. But the opposition to Obamacare of many Republican governors and state legislators lead to most states refusing to build their own marketplaces, setting the stage for the challenges to the subsidies issued for HealthCare.gov plans.

Two separate federal district court judges—in D.C. and Virginia—have rejected plaintiffs’ challenge to the subsidies. Those denials lead to the appeals in the D.C. federal circuit and in the Fourth Circuit.

Out of the more than 8 million Obamacare enrollees this year, fewer than 2.6 million people signed up in plans sold via an exchange run by a state or the District of Columbia. Of those people, 82 percent, or about 2.1 million, qualified for subsidies.

The subsidies are available to people whose incomes are between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s between about $24,000 and $95,400 annually.

In a report issued Thursday, the consultancy Avalere Health said that if those subsidies were removed this year from the 4.7 million people who received them in HealthCare.gov states, their premiums would have been an average of 76 percent higher in price than what they are paying now.

Another report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute estimated that by 2016, about 7.3 million enrollees who would have qualified for financial assistance will be lose access to about $36.1 billion in subsidies if those court challenges succeed.

One Response to “Fed appeals court panel says most Obamacare subsidies illegal”

  1. wesley July 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    This is certainly good news although our present lawless chief executive will ignore and appeal it to the highest levels and by then his term will expire before the ultimate resolution. He knows that.. So we still must look to the 2016 election to hope for the complete repeal of OmamaCare.

    For anyone to call the ACA legislation “health insurance” is a euphemism which insults the intelligence of the people. To be able to purchase insurance for a pre-existing condition is akin to calling State Farm while you watch your house burn down and demanding home fire insurance asap. So the insurer is forced to bear additional risk and this cost will certainly be passed onto to everyone.

    To call free health care a “right” is ludicrous for it imposes obligations on the providers of such services. True rights never impose costs like that on anyone.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: