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Tag Archives: Affordable Care Act
This week at the United States Supreme Court saw eight opinions in the argued cases (leaving 28 cases still to be decided). The actual opinions raise questions about the ability of the Supreme Court to function with only eight justices. Since the actual discussions between justices occur in private, it is hard to tell whether the decisions reflect divisions on the merits or just a tendency to only decide what absolutely needs to be decided. However, in several cases this week, the Supreme Court — having taken review on a broad issue — issued a very narrow decision sending the case back to the lower court to re-examine the broad issue.
While still having to deal with the current attempt to derail the Affordable Care Act (round two of the battles over the contraceptive mandate in the Supreme Court), the next challenge is working through the lower courts. On Thursday, a Bush appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that one part of the Affordable Care Act required annual appropriations. In particular, the part involved requires insurer’s to reduce deductibles and co-payments for certain low-income persons. In return, the federal government reimburses the insurer’s for those reductions. While the insurer’s have a right to those payments, the District Court found that this entitlement still requires Congress to appropriate the money. In the absence of an appropriation, an insurer only obtains payment upon filing a lawsuit (adding additional costs to the process).
The next step in this case will be an appeal to the D.C. Circuit. At that stage, besides challenging the merits of this ruling, there will almost certainly be a claim that members of the House lack standing to pursue this challenge. However, the one thing that this case makes clear is that — as long as Republicans have hopes of having the courts gut the Affordable Care Act — they will continue to file challenges to every section of the act. Of course, given the current balance on the Supreme Court, voters can put this version of shopping for judicial activism to rest by electing a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate. Maybe then, we will be able to turn our focus to making the health care system work better rather than fighting in court over the last reform.
In the Spring of 1990, when Justice Scalia had only been on the Supreme Court for four years, he wrote an opinion that offended both sides of the political spectrum — Employment Division vs. Smith. For fifty years prior to Smith — in cases dealing with unemployment benefits for Jews and Seventh Day Adventists who would not work on Saturday for religious reasons, with Jehovah Witnesses who objected to their children having to say the pledge of allegiance, with Amish who declined to send their children to school, and with conscientious objections — the Supreme Court had applied a version of compelling interest test to claims that a law infringed on practices of individual religions. In Justice Scalia’s view of the free exercise clause, the constitution only protected the right to believe in a religion, not to actually follow the dictates of a religion in one’s daily life. (Of the other four justices in the majority, only Justice Anthony Kennedy is still on the Supreme Court.) In response, Congress practically unanimously passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which, as a matter of statutory law, enacted an exemption from federal law based on religious belief containing an enhanced version of the compelling interest test.
On Wednesday, for the second time since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, employers will be seeking an RFRA exemption from the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act, specifically the regulations which include coverage for contraceptives as part of the mandatory coverage that large employers must offer to their employees or pay a fine. Unlike the employers in the first case, which were for-profit private employers, the employers in this case are religiously affiliated non-profits (including universities and charities). This case also revolves around the steps that employers must take to claim the exemption recognized in the first case, with the employers claiming that even these steps implicate them in aiding their employees sinful desires.
When people think about key dates in the Supreme Court calendar, the day that most comes to mind is the First Monday in October (the official start of the annual term) — probably because it is the only date that is set in stone. The first argument day of each term is always the first Monday in October. There are other key points in the term, but they float a bit. One of those floating dates is the Monday after the last January argument. That date (which was earlier this week) is key because of the effective time table created by the Supreme Court’s rules. Under those rules, barring emergencies required rushed briefing and argument (United States vs. Nixon, Bush vs. Gore), the soonest that a case can be argued is approximately three months after the Supreme Court decides to grant full argument on a case. Because the last argument session is always in late April/Early May, any case accepted for argument after January will not be heard before the next term begins in October. That makes this point of the year the first time that it is possible to say with absolute certainty what cases will be heard and decided by June. With this being an election year, the politically explosive cases on the Supreme Court’s argument calendars are even more explosive.
For the third time in four years, the fate of the Affordable Care Act rested with the United States Supreme Court. Early this morning, by a 6-3 vote, the United States Supreme Court kept the Affordable Care Act (and the health insurance industry) alive. If you look at all three case over the past four years, the key votes on the Supreme Court have belonged to the two pro-business conservatives (Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts). The remaining justices have been predictable — the liberals supporting the Affordable Care Act and the three ultra-conservatives opposing. If the past is any predictor for the future, any remaining challenges to the Affordable Care Act may rise or fall on what’s good for business.