ACA

  • August 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicholas Bagley. Bagley is an Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Law School. 

    *This post originally appeared on The Incidental Economist. 

    Now that the government has asked the full D.C. Circuit to rehear Halbigsome commentators have suggested that it’s an inappropriate candidate for en banc review. A Wall Street Journal op-ed from a lawyer representing a right-wing health-care think tank, for example, says that en banc review ought to be reserved for “cases raising serious constitutional issues.” Halbig, though, is just a “straightforward statutory interpretation case.”

    This is wrong for so, so many reasons. Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, a case can be taken en banc if it involves “a question of exceptional importance.” The rule does not say “a constitutional question of exceptional importance.” No judge, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the rule be read so narrowly.

    To the contrary, the rules are drafted in open-ended terms—“exceptional importance”—because cases differ in their importance along many different dimensions. Some cases are trivial in themselves but present novel legal questions that will affect hundreds of other cases. Others are of “exceptional importance” because they implicate questions of faith or principle.

  • August 7, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Robert N. Weiner, Litigation Partner, Arnold & Porter LLP

    *This post originally appeared on Balkinization

    On July 22, in Halbig v. Burwell, a panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 that low income families cannot get the tax subsidies the Affordable Care Act granted to enable them to afford health insurance, if their states opted to have the federal rather than the state government set up health insurance exchanges. Within hours, in King v. Burwell, a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit held just the opposite, that subsidies are available on all exchanges established under the Act. (I filed amicus briefs on behalf of Families USA in both cases.) 

    In making its ruling, the D.C. Circuit panel simultaneously issued an order on its own initiative making clear that its judgment was not effective until the full Court of Appeals decided whether to reconsider the case. The panel perhaps recognized that the other judges on the Court might view the decision as out of step with the Circuit’s precedents. A decision by the en banc Court to reconsider will automatically vacate the panel opinion. If the majority of the Court then concludes that the panel decision was wrong, they will issue an opinion reflecting the correct result.

    In arguing against en banc review in a Volokh Conspiracy post on August 5, Professor Jonathan Adler quotes with evident approval a 17-year old disquisition by Judge Harry Edwards, the dissenter in Halbig, regarding the standards for en banc review. The temptation of scoring a “gotcha” against Judge Edwards appears to have displaced reasoned analysis to whether those views make sense in this case. For example, Professor Adler commends Judge Edwards’ 1987 view regarding the limited value of having the entire D.C. Circuit reconsider en banc the 2-1 vote of the three-judge panel. A vote of 6 out of 11 judges, it is claimed, has no greater “legal validity” than a vote of 2 out of 3. If the implication is that any panel decision is as likely as an en banc ruling to be correct, then it was overbroad in 1987, and it is particularly fallacious here. Human fallibility being what it is, judges sometimes get an answer wildly wrong. As a matter of probability and logic, 6 judges are less likely to go off the deep end than 2. 

  • July 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Abbe Gluck, Professor of Law, Yale Law School

    *This piece originally appeared at Balkinzation

    I had hoped to take a day off blogging about Halbig and King (the ObamaCare Subsidies cases), but I cannot allow another inaccurate narrative about ObamaCare to take hold. Over at Volokh, my friend Ilya Somin argues that the holding in Halbig is not absurd because Congress uses statutory schemes all the time that try to incentivize states to administer federal law (and to penalize them if they don't). It is true we see schemes like that all the time -- Medicaid is a prime example -- but the insurance exchange design is NOT one of them. This federalism argument was made before the D.C. Circuit and even Judge Griffith didn't buy it in his ruling for the challengers. I tried to dispel this myth back in March, when I wrote the following on Balkinization:

    “This is not a conditional spending program analogous to Medicaid.”
        
    The challengers' strategy in this round has been to contend that the subsidies are part of an overarching ACA "carrots and sticks" strategy to lure states into health reform and penalize them if they decline. On that version of the story, it might make sense that subsidies would be unavailable in states that do not run their own exchanges. In their view, the subsidies are therefore exactly like the ACA’s Medicaid provision (from appellants’ brief: “The ACA’s subsidy provision offered an analogous ‘deal’ to entice states to establish Exchanges – because Congress (wisely, in hindsight) knew it had to offer huge incentives for the states to assume responsibility for that logistically nightmarish and politically toxic task.”) 

    Putting aside the fact that no one thought the states wouldn’t want to run the exchanges themselves (indeed, Senators were demanding that option for their states), the exchange provisions simply do not work in the same way as Medicaid. Unlike the ACA’s Medicaid provisions, the exchange provisions have a federal fallback: Medicaid is use-it-or-lose-it; the exchanges are do-it, or the feds step in and do it for you. In other words, this isn’t Medicaid; it’s the Clean Air Act (CAA). If a state decides not to create its own implementation plan under the CAA, its citizens do not lose the benefit of the federal program -- the feds run it. The same goes for the ACA’s exchanges and so it would be nonsensical to deprive citizens in federal-exchange states of the subsidies. More importantly, if we are going to compare apples to oranges, the ACA’s Medicaid provisions have an explicit provision stating that if the state declines to participate, it loses the program funds (this was the provision at issue in NFIB v. Sebelius in 2012). The ACA’s subsidy provisions, in contrast, have no such provision, strong evidence that the subsidies were was not intended to be forfeited if the states did not participate. If the challengers are going to insist on strict textual arguments, this is exclusio unius 101: the rule of interpretation that provides that where Congress includes a specific provision in one part of the statute but does not include an analogous provision elsewhere, that omission is assumed intentional."
     
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    It may be true that the ACA’s politics have created a landscape no one ever predicted – one in which federalism-focused states, whose congressional representatives were demanding the states’ rights to establish exchanges instead of the federal government – have decided that politics is more important than federalism and opted out. But what’s happened in hindsight doesn’t change what happened when the statute was enacted and how the statute is actually designed. What happened when the statute was designed was that no one thought the states needed a carrot to do this and the statute was never designed as a "use or lose it" incentive, like Medicaid.

  • July 26, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Leslie C. Griffin, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law 
     
    Liberty University v. Lew, the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision about the Affordable Care Act [ACA], should please no one. The opinion demonstrates the dangers of exempting religious organizations and individuals from the law. Take your pick. The court either exempted too many, or too few. Its middle ground unsatisfactorily addresses the First Amendment challenges to the Act.
     
    Individual plaintiffs and Liberty University opposed the individual and employer mandates of the ACA. The individual mandate requires individuals to obtain minimum essential health care coverage or pay a penalty in their taxes. The employer mandate requires employers to provide affordable minimal essential health care coverage to full-time employees or face a tax penalty.
     
    All plaintiffs are Christians morally opposed to abortion except to save the life of the mother. The most straightforward of their complaints alleged that their mandated insurance payments would wind up paying for abortions in violation of their constitutional and statutory rights. This is the simplest exemption argument in the case: plaintiffs think they should be exempt from the ACA because it burdens their religion.
     
    The court quickly dismissed that argument. Under the Free Exercise Clause, it ruled, the ACA is a neutral law of general applicability that applies to everyone without singling out religions for disfavor. Moreover, the court decided, plaintiffs’ religion was not burdened by the mandates. Although plaintiffs alleged that their money would be used for abortion, other provisions of the ACA required that a plan without abortion coverage would always be available as a choice for consumers. Without a substantial burden on religion, neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religion without a compelling government interest) was violated.
     
  • April 1, 2013
    BookTalk
    The Tough Luck Constitution and the Assault on Healthcare Reform
    By: 
    Andrew Koppelman

    by Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law, Northwestern University Law School

    Last spring, the Supreme Court came within one vote of taking health insurance away from over 30 million people, exposing a dangerous intellectual trend that, simply put, threatens to hurt you and your family. The near-success of the constitutional arguments against the Affordable Care Act is scary news, because those arguments silently rely on a philosophy at war with the most fundamental purpose of the Constitution: to empower the American people to solve their most pressing problems.

    The ACA included an individual mandate to have insurance, because no other path to universal insurance was workable. Even Republicans had supported such a mandate for years. Universal health insurance logically means that everyone must have insurance. 

    The litigation depended on a different ideal, which we can call Tough Luck Libertarianism: any obligation of healthy people to contribute to care for the sick is an intolerable imposition on liberty; if you get sick and can’t pay for care, that’s your tough luck.

    The constitutional challenge was devised by conservative lawyers who had, for a long time, been eager to impose limits on Congressional power. They proposed a new and previously unheard-of constitutional rule:  the state can’t make you do things or buy things. It may regulate only those who engage in some self-initiated action.

    This action/inaction distinction came advertised as a great bulwark of liberty. Actually, it was a crude bit of political opportunism. No one can live in the world without engaging in self-initiated actions all the time. This rule is not a serious constraint on government power. It allows Congress to act in every case in which the citizen has voluntarily taken some action. Most of us can’t realistically avoid having jobs and buying things, and it’s not much consolation to be told that I can avoid oppression if I live in the woods and eat berries. This limitation is unlikely to have any application after the ACA litigation, and is patently tailored to bring about a desired result in a single case.