stethoscope, pills, ampules, and notepad with "claim denied" written on it.

Preserving Meaningful External Review Despite Insurers’ Rulification of Medical Necessity

By Daniel Schwarcz and Amy B. Monahan

Increasingly, health insurers are crafting their coverage terms in ways that undermine a vital consumer protection created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA): the right to appeal health plan claim denials that are based on medical judgments to an independent, external reviewer. The ACA extended this right to all health plans to protect consumers against the risk of unreasonable coverage determinations — a risk that is all too familiar given insurers’ financial incentives to deny claims.

Yet, as revealed by our new article, Rules of Medical Necessity, this essential consumer protection is becoming increasingly illusory as health insurers shift from broad standards to concrete rules for defining when care is medically necessary. For that reason, this post proposes that the Biden/Harris administration should promulgate rules allowing external reviewers to set aside insurers’ rules of medical necessity even when they are contained in insurance policies or formal health plan documents. Instead, federal regulations should make clear that the ACA requires external reviewers to apply traditional, standard-based, definitions of medical necessity when reviewing denials of coverage that are premised on medical judgments.

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Fairview Heights, IL—Jan 5, 2020; Sign on medical clinic announces Planned Parenthood branch is now open, the southern Illinois clinic was built to serve St Louis after Missouri restricted abortions.

Financing Reproductive Justice Through Title X

By Elizabeth Sepper

The Trump administration left Title X in tatters. In the last year, its capacity to finance family planning and reproductive health services for the poor was cut in half. Many family planning providers, including Planned Parenthood, whose clinics alone served 40% of patients, were forced out of the program. Six states were left with no active Title X providers at all. 1.5 million people lost access to care.

The Biden administration has said it will undo the harm. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promulgated new rules to restore the family planning network. But more than restoration is in order. The administration must actively pursue reproductive justice. Doing so will require Congress. But failure to do so will leave Title X’s poor and uninsured patients to serve as a political football once again.

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Symposium Introduction: Recommendations for a Biden/Harris Health Policy Agenda

By Erin C. Fuse Brown

This digital symposium explores recommendations for the Biden/Harris administration’s health policy agenda. We asked leading health law scholars to describe one health policy action the administration should pursue, beyond the pandemic response. Their recommendations make up this symposium. The responses range from concrete policy changes to broad reform ideas and can be grouped into three categories, those that (1) Reverse and Restore; (2) Reinforce; (3) Reform.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

It’s Time to Update the ACA’s Anti-Discrimination Protections

By Jenna Becker

Assuming that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) withstands its most recent challenge in California v. Texas, the Biden administration should prioritize as a future reform the codification of clearer nondiscrimination standards.

The ACA’s Section 1557, which provides anti-discrimination protections, has been fraught with challenges. Section 1557 incorporates nondiscrimination protections from four separate civil rights statutes. This vague language allows administrations to offer widely differing interpretations of healthcare anti-discrimination protections.

In a 2016 rule, the Obama administration interpreted Section 1557 broadly, including protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as specific language access requirements. Many of these protections were eliminated in a 2020 rule promulgated by the Trump administration.

It’s time to end these fluctuating standards. The Biden administration should work with Congress to add clearer nondiscrimination protections to the ACA.

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image of the US Supreme Court

What the Supreme Court’s ACA Ruling Might Mean for Nonprofit Hospitals

By Jacob Madden

California v. Texas, a pending Supreme Court case that concerns the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s individual mandate, could have profound implications for the standards to which nonprofit hospitals are held.

The ACA’s individual mandate requires people to have health insurance or otherwise pay a penalty. While the Court previously upheld the individual mandate as being constitutional under Congress’ taxation power in the 2012 case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, it may not do so again. For one, the 2017 Trump tax cuts effectively eliminated the individual mandate’s penalty, raising the question of whether the individual mandate is still a valid exercise of Congress’ taxation power. And conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, filling the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, has significantly changed the composition of the court.

If the Court strikes down the individual mandate, the rest of the ACA could be in jeopardy, depending on the specifics of the ruling. The Court has several options: sever the individual mandate from the ACA and keep the ACA alive, strike down the ACA in part, or strike down the ACA entirely.

The immediate concern, should the Court strike down the ACA entirely, is that tens of millions of Americans likely would lose their health insurance and other protections afforded by the law. Another, albeit lesser known concern, is that we would lose § 501(r).

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Close-up Of Stethoscope On Us Currency And American Flag.

Short-Term, Limited-Duration Insurance May Be Here to Stay

By Abe Sutton

Short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) may be here to stay despite legal attacks, poor branding, and a potential Democratic victory in the upcoming Presidential election.

Though the Obama administration curtailed STLDI, it is now likely to endure due to black letter administrative law and changes in circumstance since 2016.

In light of this, a potential Biden administration should package legislation codifying the current regulations with legislation increasing individual market subsidies. A package along these lines could appeal to both sides of the aisle.

In this post, I provide an overview of what STLDI is, explain why administrative law precedents complicate the reversal of current regulations, and propose a path forward for a potential Biden administration. Read More

Image of a pile of contraceptive pills.

The Contraceptive Mandate Takes Another Hit  

By Elizabeth Sepper and John Aloysius Cogan, Jr.

Known for his national injunctions of federal legislation, district court judge Reed O’Connor is at it again. In DeOtte v. Azar [PDF], he issued a permanent injunction granting religious exemptions to two nationwide classes that object to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Judge O’Connor’s decision is notable for both its expansion of religious exemptions—in contradiction of eight out of nine appellate courts to consider the issue—and its casual disregard for the realities of health insurance markets.

DeOtte is the latest in a series of lawsuits pitting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, against the ACA’s mandate that insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives.

Initially, under the mandate, churches were exempt and religious non-profit employers—like hospitals and universities—received an accommodation. So long as non-profits gave notice of their objection, their plans could exclude contraception. Their employees then would receive contraception coverage through the insurance company or health plan administrator. In 2014, the Supreme Court extended the accommodation to closely held for-profit corporations in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. Read More

A data set that looks like America

By Oliver Kim

May marks the annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which recognizes the history and contributions of this diverse population in the United States. Accounting for that diversity though is one of the challenges facing the Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) community: for example, the Library of Congress commemorative website recognizes that AAPI is a “rather broad term” that can include

all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).

Understanding that diversity has huge policy and political implications, particularly in health policy. Read More

Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs) after Tax-Penalty Repeal

By Aobo Dong

The passage of the Republican tax reform bill affects the health care industry in ways that might be confusing and unpredictable for tens of millions of Americans. Due to political rhetoric and inaccurate portrayal of the bill, it seems as if the Individual Mandate – an essential element in the ACA – has been fully repealed. Nonetheless, as Health Affairs rightly points out, Section 5000A still remains in the statute to require “minimal essential coverage” for all individuals. Therefore, although the tax bill repealed the tax penalty for not having insurance coverage, the law still technically mandates individuals to acquire health insurance. Moreover, the tax penalty repeal will not take effect until the 2019 tax year, so individuals who are uninsured for more than 2 months in the 2018 tax year may still be liable for paying the tax penalty, unless future laws and regulations, or an executive order from Trump, indicates otherwise.

Under the new regulatory landscape, what could be some potential repercussions for Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs)? These ministries, largely run by evangelical Christians who believe in the merit of private cost sharing, have been benefiting from the Individual Mandate since the inception of the ACA. Under Section 5000A, HCSM members are exempt from paying the tax penalty. The dearth of legal exemptions available and the widespread dislike of Obamacare among white evangelical communities in America likely fueled the rapid growth of HCSMs in recent years. Members pay their monthly “shares” to each other to cover health insurance expanses, without going through a central insurance or governmental agency for redistribution. Read More

How the GOP Misread Public Anger over Obamacare

By David Orentlicher

In today’s New York Times, Kate Zernike reports on the lack of excitement among conservative activists for the Republican health care legislation. As Zernike observes, “President Trump and congressional leaders are getting little support from what were once the loudest anti-Obamacare voices.”

Some observers think that activists are disappointed in the failure of the GOP proposals to go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act. But that’s not the real story. In general, the public likes many of Obamacare’s key provisions, such as the protections for people with preexisting medical conditions or the ability of parents to insure their children up to age 26. Even among Republicans, there is majority support for the ban on higher premiums because of preexisting conditions and also for the mandate that insurers cover “essential health benefits.” And by 2014, Obamacare had faded as a campaign issue for Republican candidates for Congress.

So why don’t grassroots Republicans care so much about repealing the Affordable Care Act? Tea Party activists and other voters were genuinely mad about Obamacare, and they fueled the Republican wave in the 2010 House elections that saw Republicans gain 63 seats. But what made them angry was the feeling that President Obama cared more about health care than he did about the economy. In March 2010, when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. The public cared much more about jobs than about health care insurance, and they saw their President focusing on health care. Remember how many times Obama promised to “pivot” back to the economy?

Voters elected President Trump and gave Republicans majorities in the House and Senate because they wanted more jobs at better pay. If the GOP lets health care distract it from economic stimulus, we may see another wave election in 2018.