A ruling by a Federal District judge on Friday (December 14, 2018) ruled unconstitutional the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) touches off a new wave of uncertainty about the future of the massive healthcare reform law commonly known as Obamacare just as the enrollment period for 2019 health coverage ended. While Federal District Judge Reed O’Connor finds in his ruling released on Friday that amendments passed by Congress last December robbed the ACA of its original constitutionality, only time will tell if the ruling actually will end the ACA reforms or the effect of such ruling on the hotly debated ACA reforms and other statutory and regulatory reforms Congress and the Trump Administration subsequently prospectively or retrospectively. Consequently, health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries; health care providers, consumers and others will need to watch developments closely.
Justice O’Connor’s decision was released one day before the last day of the enrollment period for Americans to elect whether and what coverage, if any, to enroll in through the Obamacare exchanges for calendar 2019.
In Texas v. US, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other Republican governors challenged the constitutionality of the ACA following passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). The plaintiffS argued the TCJA rendered the ACA unconstitutional because it repealed the individual mandate of the ACA upon which the Supreme Court previously found the ACA constitutional.
In the 2012 decision in Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Businesses v. Sebelius (NFIB), 567 U.S. 519, 530–38 (2012) written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not rely upon the Commerce Clause for Constitutional authority to enact the ACA. However, the Supreme Court nevertheless found the Individual Mandate provisions of the ACA preserved the constitutionality of the ACA as a constitutional exercise of Congress’ Taxing Power.
In Texas v. US, the plaintiff governors argue that the repeal of the Individual Mandate as part of Congress’ passage of the TCJA last December robbed the ACA of its constitutionality. They say it is no longer fairly readable as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and continues to be unsustainable under the Interstate Commerce Clause. They further urge that if they are correct, the balance of the ACA is untenable as inseverable from the Invalid Mandate. Judge O’Connor agreed with the plaintiff’s in his ruling on Friday. Now it remains to be seen if his ruling will face and withstand the appeal and if so, what effect it will have on Obamacare overall and other subsequent statutory and regulatory reforms.
While only time will tell whether the decision stands and its effect, the path to clarity promises to be filled with more drama and uncertainty. Former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously had stated that the Justice Department under his leadership would not expend resources to defend the ACA. It remains to be seen how the Justice Department will not respond in light of his recent resignation. Even if the Justice Department does not step up to defend Obamacare, it is likely that states like California that have intervened in support of the ACA in the litigation will attempt to appeal the action. Assuming that an appeal proceeds, a Court of Appeals would hear the appeal before an almost certain appeal by the losing side in that appeal to the United States Supreme Court, where President Trump’s new appointee would hear the action. Along with the possibility that these Courts will uphold the trial court’s ruling, either of these appeals courts could overrule the trial court in whole or in part. Thus, subsequent appeals decisions could:
- Reverse Judge O’Connor’s ruling entirely, leaving The ACA intact in its current form; or
- Uphold part but not all of the decision, leaving some parts in place but not others.
pending further decisions, it remains unclear if subsidies, prohibitions against preexisting conditions, guaranteed issue, cost regulations, benefit and coverage mandates and other insurance reforms, health care billing and other reforms will survive.
Meanwhile, regardless of the outcome of the appeals, the decision and its fallout almost certainly will touch off more debate in Congress. With health care reform already a hot topic, more Congressional battles were inevitable. However the decision adds a new and significant wrinkle to the politics of the health reform fight.
In January November’s election will cause the leadership of the House of Representatives is set to transfer from Republicans to Democrats while leaving control over the Senate in the hands of Republications. With leadership of the two legislative bodies split, Democrats are unlikely to be able to use their new control of the House to enact legislation that would overrule outright an adverse decision by the courts. Consequently, Democrats will have an uphill battle if the court decision stands unless and until they can regain Senate control. Instead they are likely to be related to the role occupied by the House the past 4 years in which bills to enact the Democrat vision will pass the House only to die a quick death in the Republican controlled Senate or face veto by the Republican President.
On the other hand, Republicans also could not overcome a decision unfavorable to their agenda for the opposite reason: Despite control of the majority in the Senate and having a Republican President opposed to the ACA, Republicans can’t enact legislation without winning a majority of votes in the House.
On the other hand, either party can and almost certainly will use its veto power over the other party’s agenda. The fight likely will spill over into budget, immigration, workforce and other jet legislation that otherwise might and should enjoy bipartisan support in Congress.
As the litigation proceeds, concerned parties will want to keep a close eye of the Courts, the regulation and enforcement actions of the Trump Administration and the Congress.
Meanwhile, it is important to keep in mind that implementation of Judge O’Connor’s decision is stayed pending appeal.
About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized as a thoughtleader in health benefits and health care matters domestically and internationally. She has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes. As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.
Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.
Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.
A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.
Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.
Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.
Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.
A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance, compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
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