Tag Archives: health law

The ACA Twilight Zone

Death by a thousand cuts has been the Trump Administration’s approach to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  To be sure, President Trump  tweeted on April 23, 2017 that “ObamaCare is in serious trouble.”  On October 13, 2017, he tweeted, “ObamaCare is a broken mess. Piece by piece we will now begin the process of giving America the great HealthCare it deserves!”  On May 30, 2018, he stated: “For the most part, we will have gotten rid of a majority of Obamacare.”  And on June 4, 2018, he tweeted, “We had Repeal & Replace done (and the saving to our country of one trillion dollars) except for one person, but it is getting done anyway. Individual Mandate is gone and great, less expensive plans will be announced this month.”

In the courts, the ACA has certainly been no stranger to the artful attack.  But two lawsuits, one filed in Texas and the other in Maryland, have gained nationwide traction and hold nationwide consequences.  The first suit, Texas v. US, made its way to U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s bench in the Northern District of Texas.  The 20-state GOP led suit was filed on February 26, 2018 by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  It argues that since the ACA was only upheld by the Supreme Court in NFIB v. Sebelius because the individual mandate was a tax, and now that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) zeroed-out the individual mandate penalty, the entire ACA is unconstitutional.  The Plaintiff-states also argue that since the ACA does not have a severability clause – a clause that would allow the rest of the statute to live if one part is stricken – the ACA as a whole must fall.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions direction, the government will not defend the ACA’s constitutionality.  Defending the ACA, and its patient protections like the prohibition on insurers from discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions, are 17 Democratic attorneys general representing their respective states as Intervenor-Defendants.  A slew of patient groups and scholars filed amicus briefs in support of the Intervenor-Defendants, but only Citizens United filed as amicus in favor of the Plaintiff-States.  The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network filed as amicus, urging the court to uphold the ACA and to “recognize Congress’s clear intent to improve access to lifesaving health care for millions of Americans.”  A bipartisan group of law professors filed as amicus, arguing that “[t]he arguments of both the plaintiff States and the United States on the severability of the insurance mandate from the other provisions of the ACA are inconsistent with settled law.”  On July 19, 2018, Senate Democrats introduced a Senate resolution that would authorize Senate Legal Counsel to intervene in Texas v. US to defend the ACA’s patient protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The second suit, City of Columbus v. Trump, filed on August 2, 2018 by the Cities of Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus, and Cincinnati in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland alleges that the Trump Administration’s actions over the last several years amount to an unconstitutional sabotage of the law the President is required to faithfully execute.  The suit makes two claims: the first claim that the Administration is acting arbitrarily and capriciously, and the second that President Trump is violating the “Take Care” Clause of the Constitution.  Under the Take Care Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the President and his or her Administration must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” U.S. Const. art. II, § 3.  The suit cites a range of administrative actions taken to sabotage the ACA and have the aim and effect of weakening ACA exchanges, driving up premiums, and driving out issuers, ultimately increasing the rate of the uninsured and underinsured.

Judge O’Connor, after first announcing that oral arguments in Texas v. US would take place on Monday, September 10, moved up oral arguments to Wednesday, September 5, at 9:30 a.m.  At the same time in Washington, D.C., Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee for potential confirmation.  As some have noted, the fate of the ACA could turn on Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.  Kavanaugh’s preeminent views on separation of powers and his textualist-meets-originalist approach to statutory interpretation is consistent and can be expected to appear in his opinions, but is alarming to health care advocates and patients.  Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence shows that he cares deeply about administrative law and is unlikely to “deconstruct the administrative state,” but he is likely to “put a tighter leash on the regulatory state.”  In all, the fate of the ACA remains to be seen.

 

 

 

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Pentagon Reviewing Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Weapons

An October investigation by the New York Times (NYT) has led the Pentagon to review and adjust how it cares for veterans returning from tours in Iraq who believe they were exposed to chemical weapons.  The NYT investigation notes that between 2004 and 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops “repeatedly” found chemical weapons and were even wounded by them on “at least” six occasions.  All told, the report states that 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs were found in that time.  It also noted that secrecy was needed regarding the discoveries.  Secrecy surrounding the missions, however, may have put a number of military service personnel at risk as they were not aware of the threat these old munitions were to their health. Also, they were not allowed to discuss with military doctors the nature of their injuries and thus could not receive the proper treatment.

In 2004, the Army sent out instructions for the treatment of exposed soldiers which included collection and analysis of blood and urine samples for all potentially exposed soldiers followed by annual, long-term follow-up appointments – coordinated by the Deployment Health Clinical Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center – for those who had indeed been exposed.  In addition, incidents of exposure were to be recorded and reported by Command Surgeons and a database maintained by the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine.  However, the original NY Times investigation uncovered veterans who were never given blood and urine tests, told their symptoms were from something else, and returned to duty before their symptoms were over.  Furthermore, the long-term care they were promised was never followed up on.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel moved quickly to correct these issues.  Shortly after the investigation, which only mentioned 17 American service members that were exposed, he ordered an internal review of Pentagon records, specifically the collection of “post deployment health assessments” held by the Army’s Public Health Command.  In a statement following that review, the Pentagon now says that more than 600 American service members reported exposure to chemical weapons in Iraq according to the surveys filled out by troops returning from combat tours.   In the survey, they specifically ask the question “Do you think you were exposed to any chemical, biological and radiological warfare agents during this deployment?”  The Army surgeon general’s office said that 629 of these surveys were affirmative for this question.

The Army and Navy have both made statements that the examinations promised to long-term veterans will start to be available in early 2015.  Furthermore, because the previous policy of secrecy created a lack of records of exposure, the military will be reaching out to units that were possibly exposed to try and find all of the affected veterans.  Finally, there will be a hotline for veterans to call who believe they were exposed to chemical weapons.  Hopefully as the secrecy fades away and outreach continues – these veterans can get the help they need.

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How the NFIB v. Sebelius Ruling Will Increase the Amount of Uninsured under the ACA

In a March 2012 report, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that by 2022, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) would reduce the number of nonelderly people without health insurance by 33 million, leaving another 27 million still uninsured.  A significant part of that 33 million included the 17 million more people the CBO estimated to qualify for Medicaid by 2022 under the ACA.  They had not previously qualified because the ACA increased the eligible income to those making up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level.  This increase in eligibility would have been implemented by making all federal Medicaid dollars given to the states contingent on states increasing the pool of eligible individuals.

On June 28th, the Supreme Court ruled in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, however, that the federal government could not withhold current levels of Medicaid funding to force the Medicaid expansion.  Instead, it could only withhold the additional funds it planned to give out, making the Medicaid expansion optional state-by-state.

Based on the Sebelius ruling, the CBO reworked its estimates in a July 2012 report that concluded, because of the Supreme Court ruling, six million fewer people would qualify for Medicaid than previously estimated. Of those six million, however, an additional three million would qualify for the new exchanges.  Therefore, the net loss of insured people thanks to the Supreme Court ruling was three million.  In updating their numbers, the CBO did not attempt to guess which states would or would not expand their Medicaid program, but attempted to “reflect an assessment of the probabilities of different outcomes…and are, in their judgment, in the middle of the distribution of possible outcomes.”

These figures are being discussed again because of a June 2013 study by HealthAffairs, which did attempt to guess state-by-state who would be expanding their Medicaid programs and its affect on the uninsured.  They note that, after the Supreme Court decision, 14 states had announced their intent to opt-out of the expansion, six were undecided, three were leaning against the expansion, and two were leaning toward the expansion.  They found that if all currently undecided states opted in, 29.8 million people would remain uninsured by 2016 (compared to 26 million people uninsured according to the CBO by the same year).  That number would rise to 31 million if all of the undecided states opted out.  They also note that around 80% of those uninsured would be US citizens, and no matter which way the undecided states go, 4.3 million children and 1 million veterans would likely remain uninsured.

As of a September 17, 2013 a report by the Advisory Board Company found that the number of undecided and not participating states had increased. They found 15 (up from 14) states firm in opting out of expansion, seven (three) leaning against expansion, five (six) undecided or exploring an alternative model, four (two) leaning towards expansion, and overall 20 (25) firmly participating.  Therefore, the percentage of states that could be opting out has increased from 34-46% to 44-54% of states.  This will in turn increase the number of uninsured people.  As the merits of the ACA continue to be debated on Capitol Hill in light of the budget debate, and more states become firm in their plans to opt-in or opt-out of the Medicaid expansion, the number of those who are ultimately uninsured could rise and continue to undermine the goal of universal health care.

 

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