Wednesday, July 23, 2014
By now most folks have seen yesterday’s conflicting rulings over whether the Affordable Care Act authorizes subsidies for individuals who purchase insurance on a federal exchange (as opposed to exchanges run by the states). The D.C. Circuit found that such subsidies were not statutorily authorized (the Halbig case). And an hour later, the Fourth Circuit found that the subsidies were statutorily authorized (the King case).
The merits of these decisions, as a practical matter and in terms of statutory interpretation, have received tremendous attention. But Article III standing was also an issue in both Halbig and King. Who, after all, suffers the constitutionally required “injury in fact” by virtue of receiving a subsidy? The answer: People who would be subject to the individual mandate if they are entitled to the subsidy but would not be subject to the individual mandate (on income grounds) without the subsidy. Here’s how the Halbig majority explained it with respect to one of the plaintiffs in that case, David Klemencic:
Klemencic resides in West Virginia, a state that did not establish its own Exchange, and expects to earn approximately $20,000 this year. He avers that he does not wish to purchase health insurance and that, but for federal credits, he would be exempt from the individual mandate because the unsubsidized cost of coverage would exceed eight percent of his income. The availability of credits on West Virginia’s federal Exchange therefore confronts Klemencic with a choice he’d rather avoid: purchase health insurance at a subsidized cost of less than $21 per year or pay a somewhat greater tax penalty.
The D.C. Circuit found that this was sufficient for purposes of Article III standing, and the Fourth Circuit reached the same conclusion. From the Halbig majority opinion (footnote omitted):
The government characterizes Klemencic’s injury as purely ideological and hence neither concrete nor particularized. But, although Klemencic admits to being at least partly motivated by opposition to “government handouts,” he has established that, by making subsidies available in West Virginia, the IRS Rule will have quantifiable economic consequences particular to him. See Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138, 1147 (2013) (explaining that a “threatened injury” that is “certainly impending” may “constitute injury in fact” (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted)). Those consequences may be small, but even an “‘identifiable trifle’” of harm may establish standing. Chevron Natural Gas v. FERC, 199 F. App’x 2, 4 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures, 412 U.S. 669, 689 n.14 (1973)); see Bob Jones Univ. v. United States, 461 U.S. 574, 581-82 (1983) (noting that Bob Jones University sued for a tax refund of $21.00). Klemencic thus satisfies the requirement of establishing an injury in fact, and because that injury is traceable to the IRS Rule and redressable through a judicial decision invalidating the rule, we find that he has standing to challenge the rule.
And from the King opinion:
We agree that this represents a concrete economic injury that is directly traceable to the IRS Rule. The IRS Rule forces the plaintiffs to purchase a product they otherwise would not, at an expense to them, or to pay the tax penalty for failing to comply with the individual mandate, also subjecting them to some financial cost. Although it is counterintuitive, the tax credits, working in tandem with the Act’s individual mandate, impose a financial burden on the plaintiffs.
The defendants’ argument against standing is premised on the claim that the plaintiffs want to purchase “catastrophic” insurance coverage, which in some cases is more expensive than subsidized comprehensive coverage required by the Act. The defendants thus claim that the plaintiffs have acknowledged they would actually expend more money on a separate policy even if they were eligible for the credits. Regardless of the viability of this argument, it rests on an incorrect premise. The defendants misread the plaintiffs’ complaint, which, while mentioning the possibility that several of the plaintiffs wish to purchase catastrophic coverage, also clearly alleges that each plaintiff does not want to buy comprehensive, ACA-compliant coverage and is harmed by having to do so or pay a penalty. The harm in this case is having to choose between ACA-compliant coverage and the penalty, both of which represent a financial cost to the plaintiffs. That harm is actual or imminent, and is directly traceable to the IRS Rule.