Halbig and the Stability of the ACA

By Jeremy Kreisberg

I have previously blogged about an important case — Halbig v. Sebelius — before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (DDC).  The case concerned whether the Affordable Care Act permits the IRS to issue tax credits to individuals purchasing insurance through federally facilitated exchanges.  In short, the challengers argued that because section 1401 of the ACA calculates tax credits only for individuals purchasing insurance through “an Exchange established by the State,” individuals purchasing insurance through an exchange established by the federal government cannot receive such tax credits.

Yesterday, DDC sharply rejected this argument, finding that the ACA — read as a coherent whole — requires the IRS to issue tax credits to individuals purchasing insurance through either a state or a federal exchange.  Needless to say, this case represents a triumph for the government.  For now (cases on the same issue are still pending in other districts, and this opinion will almost certainly be appealed to the D.C. Circuit), the government has dodged today’s biggest threat to the vitality of the ACA.

The substance of the case was summarized well by Professor Bagley over at the Incidental Economist.  So rather than dwell on the (very persuasive) reasoning of the court, I want to focus on one important doctrinal move in the case (after the jump):

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A Tale of Two Polities

By Scott Burris

Last week, Northeastern University’s effort to convene a much-needed conference on the future of health policy was a casualty of the successful manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.  One hardly wants to make too much of a stymied conference given all the human damage of the bombing and its aftermath, but all of us who had gathered for the meeting regretted that we would not hear from the panelists, and sympathized with organizers who had put so much into planning it.  In recognition of that, I am summarizing here what I planned to say there.  It is a tale of two polities that seem to compete for existence in our perceptions of the politics of public health.

One public health is incredibly popular with citizens and lawmakers alike – demonstrated by polling and passage of legislation.  I’ve recently blogged on this here.  The other public health is the despised nanny state, big government, the sequestered and slashed-to-the bone struggling provider of essential services that don’t get no respect and don’t deserve the meager tax dollars we still pay in. We see this in budget cuts, in hyperbolic allegations of “corruption,” and in disingenuous advocacy for a radical caveat emptor regime for all legal products.

What do we make of these two radically different views of where public health now stands in the public’s regard? My claim is that the former is largely the truth – public health is popular, not despised – but the latter view is what is driving budgets and a lot of policy. The action points follow: a sustained fight to mobilize public support and win more battles over budgets and laws. I see three main strands of work:

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Further On the Fake Anti-Government Electorate

By Scott Burris

In recent posts, I have been pointing to research that suggests that government intervention for public health is actually rather popular as a general matter. Now comes a neat paper that takes on the question of whether politicians actually know what their constituents want.  I read it as further evidence that our politics is being shaped by a lot of well-supported anti-government noise-making that has been allowed to flourish unchallenged.

The paper in brief: the authors surveyed candidates for state-level legislative office, and used a technique called multi-level regression and post-stratification (MRP) to localize opinion poll data to legislative districts. They then compared what candidates think their constituencies believe on key issues (health care reform, gay marriage, welfare reform) with what the polls say their constituents believe.  They find that both conservatives and liberals significantly overestimate the conservatism of the people who elect them:

In districts where supporters of these policies outnumber opponents by 2 to 1, liberal politicians appear to typically believe these policies enjoy only bare majority support while conservative politicians typically outright reject the notion that these policies command widespread support.”

The paper is worth reading for its findings (and to allow you to personally assess its limitations – this has not yet even been peer reviewed.) A more detailed summary with some of the charts is on Dylan Matthew’s Washington Post blog.

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Overspent: Inauguration Day Thoughts on the Future of Health Policy

By Cassie Chambers

In honor of today’s presidential inauguration, I started making a list of exciting past, present, and future health policies advocated by the Obama administration. Thirty minutes later there was still just one word on my computer screen: OBAMACARE. Then, I came to terms with what the next four years represent for health policy: an empty page in healthcare history, colored only by the shadow of the Obamacare fight. In short: we’ve spent all of our health policy political capital, and the next few years are all about paying off the bill.

I could perhaps accept this bleak vision of the future if I thought that the Affordable Care Act had provided solid solutions to our current problems. But the compromises needed to pass the ACA left it littered with holes—including a lack of effective cost-controls that threatens to undermine the entire system. Because of these holes, there is one more truth we have to face: however expensive Obamacare was initially, we still haven’t paid the full price.

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Dreams Deferred

By Wendy Parmet

After the November election, President Obama’s executive order implementing parts of the so-called “Dream Act” was widely credited with shoring up his support within the Latino community.  Less often noted was his Administration’s decision to exclude the “Dreamers” from the benefits afforded by the Affordable Care Act.

Last August, the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) issued an interim final regulation stating that individuals who benefitted from the President’s program, more formally known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” or DACA, would not be considered “lawfully present” for purposes of eligibility to health benefits established by the Affordable Care Act, including the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and the subsidies and credits that will be available in 2014 to purchase insurance through the health insurance exchanges. Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan Program, 77 Fed. Reg. 52614-01 (Aug. 30, 2012) (to be codified 45 C.F.R. § 152.2), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-08-30/html/2012-21519.htm.

The impact of this little noticed determination is quite significant. Although most of the estimated 1.7 million DACA immigrants are healthy, because of their age (under 30), many lack access to employer-provided health insurance. Moreover, if as expected, employers begin to shift their health insurance programs to the ACA-created exchanges, DACA immigrants may find themselves barred from employer-provided plans, even though under the President’s executive order they have a legal right to work in the United States.

The insurance gap created by CMS’ determination that the DACA immigrants are not “lawfully present” in the U.S., a decision that is inconsistent with the Administration’s conclusion that other deferred action recipients are eligible for benefits established under the ACA, illuminates the critical relationship between immigration policy and health policy.  To a surprising degree, the health insurance access problem in the U.S. results from laws that bar immigrants (including many with Green Cards) from many government-supported health insurance programs, including Medicaid. In 2010, over 45 % of non-citizens were uninsured, as compared to less than 14 % of native-born Americans. Approximately 65 % of undocumented immigrants are believed to lack health insurance. The ACA is unlikely to reduce those rates, especially regarding undocumented immigrants. Neither, it is now seems, is DACA.

Roundup of State Ballot Initiatives on Health Issues

By Katie Booth

This November, voters weighed in on an array of state ballot initiatives on health issues from medical marijuana to health care reform. Ballot outcomes by state are listed below (more after the jump).

Voters in Alabama, Montana, and Wyoming passed initiatives expressing disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, while a similar initiative in Florida garnered a majority of the vote but failed to pass under the state’s supermajority voting requirement. Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the state executive branch from establishing a health insurance exchange, leaving this task to the federal government or state legislature. Florida voters defeated a measure that would have prohibited the use of state funds for abortions, while Montana voters passed a parental notification requirement for minors seeking abortions (with a judicial waiver provision). Perhaps surprisingly, California voters failed to pass a law requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. Several states legalized medical marijuana, while Arkansas voters struck down a medical marijuana initiative and Montana voters made existing medical marijuana laws more restrictive. Colorado and Washington legalized all marijuana use, while a similar measure failed in Oregon. Physician-assisted suicide was barely defeated in Massachusetts (51% to 49%), while North Dakotans banned smoking in indoor workplaces. Michigan voters failed to pass an initiative increasing the regulation of home health workers, while Louisiana voters prohibited the appropriation of state Medicaid trust funds for other purposes.

Affordable Care Act:

  • Alabama Health Care Amendment, Amendment 6: Approved 59.52% to 40.48% (prohibits mandatory participation in any health care system)
  • Florida Health Care Amendment, Amendment 1: Defeated 51.46% to 48.54% (required 60% support to pass) (would have prohibited passing laws compelling the purchase of health insurance)
  • Missouri Health Care Exchange Question, Proposition E: Approved 61.8% to 38.2% (“prohibit[s] the Governor or any state agency, from establishing or operating state-based health insurance exchanges unless authorized by a vote of the people or the legislature”)
  • Montana Health Care Measure, LR-122: Approved 66.83% to 33.17% (prohibits “the state or federal government from mandating the purchase of health insurance coverage or imposing penalties for decisions related to the purchase of health insurance coverage”)
  • Wyoming Health Care Amendment, Amendment A: Approved 76.98% to 23.02% (stating that “the right to make health care decisions is reserved to the citizens of the state of Wyoming”)

Drug Law Factoids for Your Consideration

By Scott Burris

This is a succinct paragraph from the weekly newsletter of U. Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research. Seems relevant both to the conference on law  enforcement and public health I reported on earlier this week, and the election results on marijuana:

There were an estimated 12,408,899 arrests in the United States in 2011, according to data from the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The highest number of arrests were for drug abuse violations—selling, manufacturing, or possessing drugs, followed by larceny-theft and driving under the influence. The majority (82%) of these arrests were for possession and one-half of these drug abuse violations involved marijuana. A poll conducted in 2011 found that one-half of U.S. residents think that marijuana should be legalized (see CESAR FAX, Volume 21, Issue 19).