Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Back in January, I commented on the oral arguments in Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, the Medicaid reimbursement case that the Supreme Court decided yesterday. I noted then that Justice Breyer seemed confused about Medicaid's operation; that Justice Kennedy appeared to be on the fence; and that the four dissenters from Douglas v. Independent Living Center appeared wedded their 2012 position that no private right of action is available under the Supremacy Clause. Sure enough, the Court eliminated private enforcement of the Medicaid Act's payment adequacy provision ("30(A)") against non-compliant states. This decision is a major victory for states, a questionable victory for the Obama Administration, and a potential defeat for access to care in the Medicaid program.
Justice Scalia authored the majority opinion (joined by Justices Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Breyer), which began with an intentional description of Medicaid as a Spending Clause program. Justice Scalia noted that states agree to spend federal funds "in accordance with congressionally imposed conditions." The majority then effectively constructed a clear notice rule for the Supremacy Clause, indicating that the Supremacy Clause provides a "rule of construction" but does not "create a cause of action" unless Congress "permits the enforcement of its laws by private actors." Although purporting to empower Congress, the majority actually limited the reach of federal legislation by requiring Congress to explicitly confer private rights of action under federal laws. As a Brief by Former Administrators of HHS made clear (in Douglas and again in Armstrong), Congress and HHS rely on private actions to enforce the Medicaid Act, in part because the law has such a broad reach and the agency's staffing is so limited. Contrary to the majority's bizarre characterization of private enforcement of federal laws as limiting, in the Medicaid context, private enforcement is critical for implementing the purposes of 30(A), which was written to ensure equal access to medical care for Medicaid beneficiaries. 30(A) requires on-the-ground observation for assessing states' payment adequacy, which HHS cannot do without the assistance provided by privately initiated enforcement actions.
The majority then cited Chief Justice Roberts' dissent in Douglas to support its position that Congress deliberately excluded private enforcement from the Medicaid Act. This is simply not true. Congress did not "foreclose" or "exclude" private enforcement from the Medicaid Act, either in 1965 when Medicaid was enacted, or when 30(A) amended the Act. In fact, Congress debated language that would have prevented providers and beneficiaries from seeking relief in federal court when states violate the Medicaid Act, but Congress never has added such language to the Medicaid Act. Nevertheless, the majority concluded that the Secretary of HHS is solely responsible for enforcing 30(A) pursuant to her authority under 42 U.S.C. §1396c to withhold Medicaid funds from non-compliant states. The Secretary is reluctant to withhold funds in Medicaid because such an act would harm beneficiaries, but the majority did not engage this quandary, instead deeming 30(A) judicially unmanageable, even though lower federal courts have guided states toward adequate payment decisions for years. The majority also seems to be setting up HHS to fail; if the agency actually withheld Medicaid funding, the state might respond with a claim of coercion under NFIB v. Sebelius, thereby further undermining the program's operations. (Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy would have struck down the Medicaid expansion in its entirety under the newly crafted doctrine of coercion in that case.)
The majority circled back to Medicaid's status as a spending program in Part IV of its opinion, which Justice Breyer did not join, and which may resurrect a theory of spending programs as being like contracts and unlike other federal laws. Though the Court has long relied on the Pennhurst contract analogy for federal conditional spending programs, in some cases (e.g. Barnes v. Gorman), the Court has suggested that the "third party beneficiaries" of spending programs have no enforceable rights in those programs. The majority opinion very briefly noted that "contracts between two governments" cannot be enforced by beneficiaries of those contracts - citing Justice Thomas's concurrence in PhRMA v. Walsh - as if the federal government and the states were co-equal sovereigns. This dicta brings all Medicaid provider and patient actions into question, whether they are raised under the Supremacy Clause or section 1983, the other avenue for Medicaid private enforcement. The majority thus opened the courthouse doors to further eroding of conditional spending statutes in the context of the Medicaid Act. [more after the jump]
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
In 2012, the Supreme Court heard two important Medicaid cases, one in January of 2012 pertaining to payment rates (Douglas v. ILC), and the other in March 2012 pertaining to the ACA's Medicaid expansion (NFIB v. Sebelius). In Douglas, the Court's majority deferred to HHS, allowing the agency to exercise primary jurisdiction over California's Medicaid payment rates and punting the question regarding Supremacy Clause actions by Medicaid providers against noncompliant states. And, in NFIB, the Court decided that Medicaid's modification under the ACA was not Medicaid enough for purposes of Spending Clause doctrine but was Medicaid enough for purposes of the remedy, which was to limit HHS's authority to terminate Medicaid funding for states that refused to expand Medicaid eligibility under the terms of the ACA. Confused yet? So is the Court, and that's a potential problem.
Fast forward to 2014, and the Court is once again hearing a Medicaid reimbursement rate case and an ACA case, in the same time frame as 2012, both of which could be very disruptive. The Medicaid rate case is Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, and the weirdly confused oral arguments occurred today. The question the Court granted from the petition for certiorari was whether private parties can enforce the Medicaid Act's equal access provision ("30(a)") against a noncompliant state when HHS has not demanded compliance from the state through payment of adequate reimbursement rates. Armstrong may have far-reaching implications for the Medicaid program, for implied rights of action, and for federal courts' jurisdiction over Supremacy Clause actions, to name a few possible dimensions. Steve Vladeck, author of a very important amicus brief on behalf of former HHS officials, has posted about some of these issues. Rather than re-hash his fine commentary, or Will Baude's pithy overview for SCOTUSblog this morning, I will quickly share some impressions of today's oral arguments.
First, the justices had no idea how Medicaid works, which matters quite a lot when it may be the vehicle for constitutional change. Justice Breyer, for example, did not appear to understand the difference between the state describing how it would set payment rates and the state actually setting the amount of money it would pay to reimburse health care providers for their services. Here, Idaho created a methodology for rate setting that was approved by HHS, but then its legislature decided to use a different rate setting methodology tied to the state's budget. Breyer kept using the example of a doctor submitting a bill for $80 when all he could receive was $60, but the example was inapposite. Another minor example is that the prohibition against balance billing was news to the justices. Another example is Justice Alito's hypothetical about states that allow for medical marijuana being sued because feeral law does not permit possession of marijuana, which had no apparent relevance for the Medicaid preemption questions at hand.
James Piotrowski, on behalf of Exceptional Child Center tried to limit the conversation to whether the state actually followed the plan that CMS approved (which it appears Idaho did not). He also tried to explain why a broad-based Supremacy Clause/Spending Clause decision would be both unnecessary and dangerous, and he advocated for a limited ruling that would allow this set of plaintiffs to seek an injunction to force the state to abide by the reimbursement plan that HHS approved.
The trouble is that the Solicitor General, as he did in 2012, promoted the view that no private rights of action should be permitted. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan quickly called out Mr. Kneedler on HHS’ deep disagreement with this position. Kneedler asserted that HHS does not want these private actions, even though HHS pointedly did not sign the SG's brief, and even though the amicus brief here and in Douglas on behalf of former HHS officials (of all political stripes) clearly explained that HHS both expects and needs private actions to occur. In both cases, the former HHS officials explained that the agency is so woefully understaffed and underfunded that it could never police all of the states' reimbursement rates on a claim by claim basis.
The four dissenters from Douglas were relatively quiet during oral arguments today. In 2012, the Chief Justice authored a dissent that would have denied private rights of action under 30(a) to force states to pay adequate payment rates for equal access to health care providers. I suspect that Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas remain in the same positions, unless they were convinced that Idaho should have just stuck to the plan and their legislature drove off the rails after CMS approved their rate setting methodology. The real question will be if Kennedy sees this action as some kind of affront to state sovereignty given his affinity for federalism resolutions. If so, then Supremacy Clause actions will be lost for 30(a) litigants, and states will run over Medicaid providers who cannot enforce the adequate payment language in the Medicaid Act. In the very moment that more and more states are negotiating Medicaid expansion under the power given to them by the Court in NFIB, this would be a dangerous precedent both theoretically and on the ground. More to come.
January 20, 2015 in Affordable Care Act, Constitutional, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, HHS, Medicaid, Policy, State Initiatives, States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, October 3, 2014
With a highly troublesome reading of the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit managed to uphold a statute that has closed many abortion clinics in Texas, at least for the time being. The statute requires abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgery clinics, and the costs of doing so are unaffordable for the majority of abortion clinics. According to the New York Times,
Thirteen clinics whose facilities do not meet the new standards were to be closed overnight, leaving Texas — a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age, ranking second in the country — with eight abortion providers, all in Houston, Austin and two other metropolitan regions. No abortion facilities will be open west or south of San Antonio.
At issue was whether the statute imposes an "undue burden" on pregnant women seeking an abortion in Texas and is therefore unconstitutional. The district court found an undue burden because some women will have to travel 500 miles to reach an abortion clinic and therefore incur a substantial hardship from the increased time and expense of the travel. The women will have problems with child care, transportation, and getting time off from work.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
On July 29, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an as-applied ruling in a case involving Mississippi’s statute requiring that all physicians affiliated with a Jackson clinic providing abortion services have admitting and staff privileges at local hospitals. All local hospitals were unwilling to grant privileges to two of the clinic’s physicians who were involved most directly in abortion services because of the nature of their practices. Had the state’s statute been enforced, the clinic—Mississippi’s only facility offering abortion services—would have been ordered to close.
Mississippi’s argument was that ordering the clinic to close would not impose an undue burden on Mississippi women’s constitutional rights because women would be able to travel to nearby states for abortion services. The Fifth Circuit reasoned to the contrary: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state's obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.” Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Currier, 2014 WL 3730467 (July 29, 2014).
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
This has been cross-posted for a more general audience at ACSblog. Though it contains more background than most healthlawprof readers will need, analysis comes after the jump.
The D.C. Circuit held in Halbig v. Burwell that the IRS cannot provide tax credits to individuals who purchase private health insurance in states with federally-run insurance exchanges, potentially depriving millions of middle and low income Americans access to affordable health insurance. Improbably, while the blogosphere lit up, the Fourth Circuit held in King v. Burwell that the IRS properly interpreted the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide tax credits in all exchanges whether run by a state or the federal government. Members of the Obama Administration immediately declared they will seek rehearing by the D.C. Circuit en banc. The standard of review for petitions for rehearing is rigorous, but given the importance of the case, and the new circuit split, rehearing is conceivable. Further, it is not unreasonable to anticipate that the Supreme Court ultimately will grant a petition for certiorari in either or both of these cases. If it is upheld, Halbig could be the most damaging decision in the ACA litigation wars yet. For those not mired in the details of the ACA and its ongoing legal challenges, here’s why.
The ACA attempts to create near-universal insurance coverage by making Americans insurable and by commanding insurers to play by uniform rules. The ACA was created because, in 2008, one in five Americans did not have health insurance coverage. To make this number tangible, imagine everyone you know with blue eyes… and now imagine they do not have health insurance. That’s how many were uncovered, and the lack of coverage was just about that random too. In the United States, if you don’t have health insurance, you don’t have access to consistent healthcare. The ACA has clear goals, but it is a muddy scrum of legislative drafting that never underwent a conference committee process, and that imprecision has facilitated the litigation in these cases.
To avoid adverse selection (the problem of free riding), the ACA requires Americans to carry minimum essential coverage or face a tax penalty (upheld in NFIB v. Sebelius); however, if insurance premiums would cost more than 8% of an individual’s income, then no tax penalty will be assessed. To facilitate health insurance coverage, the ACA created health insurance exchanges, also called marketplaces, where individuals and small groups can purchase health insurance that provides standardized benefits without exclusions for preexisting conditions and other disequalizing prohibitions. People who earn 100-400% of the federal poverty level are eligible for federal tax credits that assist in paying premiums for private insurance on the exchanges (“premium assistance tax credits,” codified at 26 U.S.C. 36B), increasing substantially the number of people who can afford to purchase private health insurance.
States were given a choice to create exchanges with federal funding under ACA section 1311, and if they opted not to, then the federal government would create “such” exchange in the state under ACA section 1321. Sixteen states and D.C. created their own exchanges before January 1, 2014, so currently two-thirds of states have federally-run exchanges. This landscape is shifting slightly as some states’ exchanges fail and they move to federal mechanisms, while other states are still eyeballing the federal money available until 2015. What matters here is that the majority of exchanges were federally-run on the day that Halbig was decided.
Friday, April 25, 2014
It’s likely that most readers of this blog already know that the FDA just announced its intent to extend its regulatory powers to E-Cigarettes. E-Cigarettes have proven to be a "high interest" topic in both my "Constitutional Issues in Health Law" and "Legal Issues in Human Subject Research Classes." The struggle between the FDA and those it wishes to regulate raise questions about the powers of all three branches of Government. It can serve as a proxy for all administrative agencies in an Admin Class or as a direct source of study in a public health, environmental or (of course) food & drug law class.
But back to E-Cigarettes.
The FDA’s relationship with regulating tobacco products has been a complicated one. This book review by Margaret Gilhooley can bring you up to date on the history of FDA’s failed attempts to obtain jurisdiction. It was not until June 22, 2009 that the FDA finally did get regulatory power when President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) that the FDA got any authority to regulate tobacco products—and that only through the filter (sorry) of protecting children. And that still remains the outer limit—protecting children.
So any regulation of E-Cigarettes has to be along the lines of making them less available to minors. That’s why what sounds like a relatively weak reason—“even if they are harmless, they are a gateway for children to real cigarettes” is important because that is the statutory basis of the FDA’s power. It’s not surprising that the FDA’s announcement has been met with immediate protest from Vapers. New York’s ban (and remember, all the FDA’s done is to announce it intends to assert its authority to look into the product’s safety) has sparked considerable push-back based on issues of “personal liberty.” Apparently this anti-regulation movement is not restricted to the U.S.
Vapers have had little success persuading cities to exempt e-cigarettes from public spaces, but they have been able to prevent outright bans and to allow the creation of “vaping lounges” –-the English majors among you know these better as modern day equivalent of a legal opium den—perhaps inhabited by today’s Keats, Shelleys and Coleridges. We even have them in Lubbock.
The FDA’s goal is to build on the actions of the cities that are equating e-cigarettes with “old style” tobacco to keep e-cigarettes as an “adults only” product.
April 25, 2014 in Constitutional, Drug and Device, Environmental Health, FDA, Food, Obama Administration, Policy, Proposed Legislation, Public Health, Public Opinion, State Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 17, 2014
On Wednesday, Judge Friedman (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) granted summary judgment to Secretary Sebelius in Halbig v. Sebelius (2014 WL 129023). Individual plaintiffs and small businesses, supported by the Cato Institute, Competetive Enterprise Institute, and others, challenged the availability of tax credits in federally-run Health Insurance Exchanges as exceeding the IRS's administrative authority. The court found that the statute, Congress's intent, and the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act supported the IRS's regulations. Thus, tax credits will be available in Exchanges whether the insurance is purchased on an exchange created by a state or an exchange created by the federal government standing in the state's shoes. The opinion engaged in careful statutory analysis and found the first part of the Chevron test answered the legal questions the plaintiffs presented (though a footnote provided a quick second step analysis anyway). Professor Gluck called this decision a big win for the ACA given that Chevron deference was not necessary in the court's analysis, and the court's methodical statutory analysis is certainly persuasive. (Professor Bagley posted a similarly sanguine analysis here.) By all accounts, this decision is a win for the Obama Administration.
This solid decision ought to end this frivolous litigation, but the plaintiffs have already stated that they will file an appeal. As I discussed here and here, even though these challenges have no statutory traction, the plaintiffs are financially well supported, and they have the means to continue pressing their theories up the federal court ladder. And, the political climate inspires unhappy policy losers to pursue their desired outcome through the judicial branch when they have lost in the legislative and executive branches. Although the decision in NFIB v. Sebelius allowed the ACA to move forward, it opened the courthouse doors to litigation such as this, which pushes legal reasoning in directions that would not have been considered serious before the successes of the NFIB litigation. While I do not believe that Halbig et al. have a real case for preventing tax credits in federally-run exchanges, that will not necessarily prevent another federal court from finding a differently.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Yesterday's reports on the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association indicated disarray over the Medicaid expansion, and an opinion piece in the NYT highlighted the common story that only half of states are expanding their Medicaid programs. If CMS is counting, then this tally is correct, as the federal agency can only account for those states that have submitted the proper documentation for expansion. But this is not the only way to consider the states' decisionmaking regarding the expansion. I have just posted a short essay preliminarily detailing research I have performed over the last several months, which reveals that many states currently counted as "not participating" are acting to expand their Medicaid programs. Here is the abstract:
November 23, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, CMS, Constitutional, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, HHS, Medicaid, Obama Administration, PPACA, Spending | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Monday, October 7, 2013
[Cross posted today at Constitution Daily:]
The Affordable Care Act expresses many goals, but its heart is the desire to create a health insurance home for all Americans. The American healthcare system historically exists at the pleasure of a number of stakeholders and is not a coherent whole. This lack of system is reflected in the consistent tensions that underlie American healthcare, most notably federal power versus state power; the collective versus the individual; and the individual versus the state. In creating near-universal health insurance, the ACA has resolved one of those tensions, individual versus the collective, in favor of the collective. To that end, the ACA eliminated many of the practices health insurers used to cherry pick policyholders, which excluded people who need medical care from their risk pools. In so doing, the ACA represented a federal choice to make all people insurable, whatever their wealth, age, medical history, sex, race, or other distinguishing factor.
Despite the redirection this leveling of the health insurance playing field represents, the ACA did not craft a coherent whole out of the American healthcare system. Instead, the ACA remodels the preexisting, unstable healthcare system. In building on the old foundation rather than starting anew, the law retained the historic role of the states in regulating medical matters. To that end, the ACA urged the states to implement two key aspects of its insurance modifications: Health Insurance Exchanges and the expansion of the Medicaid program. The federal government has the power under the Spending Clause to create a federally-run insurance mechanism, but it chose instead to employ cooperative federalism to keep states engaged in healthcare policymaking. The trouble is that some states have not been cooperating with these central legislative goals.
The Exchanges, or Marketplaces, are an instrument through which qualified private health insurance plans can be purchased by individuals or small businesses. The states were offered federal funding to create their own state-run Exchanges, which were operative as of October 1, 2013 (Tuesday last week). Many states created Exchanges, but many rejected them as an expression of their distaste for the ACA. Predictably, many of the states that have refused to create their own Exchanges were the same states that challenged the constitutionality of the ACA. While there is value in dissent, the states that refused to create Exchanges invited more federal power into the state, because rejecting the federal offer for funding to create a state-run Exchange did not halt Exchanges from coming into existence. Instead, the ACA tasked the federal government with operating Exchanges in states that did not create their own. While expressing a desire to protect their state sovereignty, these states have invited federal authority into their borders. Though the Exchanges at both the state and federal levels have experienced some technical glitches this week, it appears that many people are eager to purchase insurance through them and that they have been successful at doing so. The states that rejected Exchanges have not stopped implementation of the law, but their actions have other notable ramifications.
The Medicaid expansion was designed to catch childless adults under age 65 and below 133% of the federal poverty level in Medicaid’s safety net. As with other modifications to the Medicaid program over the years, the expansion added a new element to the Medicaid Act that states could reject, but they could lose all of their funding if they made that choice. The day the ACA was signed into law, states challenged the expansion of the Medicaid program as unconstitutionally coercive. They succeeded on this claim in NFIB v. Sebelius, and the Court rendered the expansion optional for states. Immediately pundits began to question whether the states would participate in the Medicaid expansion.
Though national media tallies make it appear that just over half of the states are participating in the Medicaid expansion, in reality the number is and will be much higher. In almost every state reported as “leaning toward not participating,” and in many states reported as “not participating,” some significant act has occurred to explore implementation of the Medicaid expansion. Some states have special commissions or task forces researching expansion; some state governors have indicated a desire to participate and have included the expansion in the budget; some legislatures have held debate or scheduled it for the next session; and so on. Though some states will not have their Medicaid expansions running by January 1, 2014, it seems very likely that most if not all states will participate in the expansion in the relatively near future.
In the meantime, state non-cooperation will have a direct effect on some of the nation’s poorest citizens. People from 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive tax credits for purchasing insurance in the Exchanges. In states with no expansion, people above 100% of the federal poverty level who would have qualified for Medicaid will still be able to obtain insurance through federal subsidies in the Exchanges. But, people who are below 100% of the federal poverty level will be too poor for tax-credits and living in states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs, therefore they will not be able to enroll in Medicaid either. These very low income people will not be penalized for failing to carry health insurance, but they will not have health insurance either. These individuals will get caught in a health insurance black hole that exists in part because the Court allowed states to refuse Medicaid expansion and in part because of state resistance to partnering in the implementation of the ACA.
State cooperation in the Medicaid expansion is even more important than state participation in the Exchanges, because many thousands of people may not get the access to health insurance that is the promise of the ACA. The debate over the meaning of federalism that swirls around political and academic circles will have a direct and important effect on the people who can least afford it. The good news for them is that Medicaid’s history indicates that all states eventually participate in the program and its amendments, but this week’s implementation of the Exchanges keeps access to medical care through health insurance tantalizingly out of reach.
October 7, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, Constitutional, Health Care, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, Medicaid, Obama Administration, PPACA, Private Insurance, Spending, State Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, September 27, 2013
Big news in the world of ACA implementation: CMS approved Arkansas' proposed waiver for an alternative mechanism for Medicaid expansion, which is to be called the Arkansas Health Care Independence Program. Arkansas proposed a premium assistance program, wherein newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries will obtain insurance through the Arkansas health insurance exchange by receiving financial assistance for premium costs. This will place the new Medicaid population in qualified health insurance plans, i.e. private health insurance, which is administratively more expensive than government-sponsored insurance, but it may help to deal with the problem of "churn" between Medicaid and Marketplace-based private insurance.
CMS's approval of Arkansas' Medicaid demonstration program is significant for a number of reasons, but here I'd like to focus on what I think is one of the biggest: this waiver approval will pave the way for other states that are "undecided" to finally declare their intent to expand their Medicaid programs. I believe this will happen relatively quickly, because most states are already working on expansion. You would not think this is true from the national media's reporting on the Medicaid expansion. If you have been following any of the many color-coded maps depicting the five possible categories of expansion (expanding, not expanding, leaning toward expanding, leaning toward not expanding, and alternative model), you would think that just over half of the states are participating in the Medicaid expansion. The national media has gotten this story wrong, because they do not pick up on the negotiations, investigations, committees, special commissions, and other ways in which the "leanging toward not participating" states are actually exploring how they can expand their Medicaid programs. To understand how dynamic the state decision making is, you have to track the local newspapers that follow every move of the state legislatures and their conversations with their governors (which I have been doing all summer).
After NFIB v. Sebelius was decided, I wrote that most states would still expand their Medicaid programs. It appears that most states are now working toward Medicaid expansion in some form. In future posts, I will explain this dynamic federalism story in more detail. For today, I will emphasize that CMS has opened the door to more state waivers, which will lead to more states expanding their Medicaid programs. Though I am not necessarily on board with federalism by waiver, espcially given states' history of waiver mistakes and failures, I do think that in this instance, alternative expansion is better than no expansion. Otherwise, many of our poorest citizens will be left out of the attempt at national insurance coverage, not paying a penalty, but not having access to much-needed healthcare either.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
The Court's decision striking down section 3 of DOMA in United States v. Windsor was unsurprising, yet still a relief to many. Section 3 defined marriage for federal statutory purposes to mean only marriage between one man and one woman. Based on the late March oral arguments in Windsor, as well as Justice Kennedy's majority opinions in Lawrence v. Texas and Romer v. Evans, the common wisdom was that federalism would be the prevailing reasoning because the states historically have governed family law matters, including marital status. One of Justice Kennedy's projects has been revitalization of the Court's enforcement of federalism to protect the states, especially as a method to protect individual liberties (see, e.g., Bond v. United States).
And so it was. Justice Kennedy provided both structural and substantive reasons for striking down section 3 of DOMA. From a structural perspective, Justice Kennedy's majority emphasized traditional state dominion over marriage, writing: "By history and tradition, the definition and regulation of marriage ... has been treated as being within the realm of the separate States." Though the opinion walked right up to the federalism line, it stopped short of holding that DOMA exceeded congressional authority or violated the Tenth Amendment. Instead, the majority moved forward on substance and held that the federal government cannot take away the marriage right and its attendant societal status once conferred by the states. To do so was a violation of gay couples' liberty and dignity. The Court also hinted at an equal protection analysis, condemning Section 3 as creating second class marriages in states that recognize same-sex unions. The majority applied only rational basis review, rather than heightened scrutiny, holding that DOMA was motivated by anti-gay animus and served no legitimate governmental purpose.
Neither the federalism, nor the equal protection, nor the due process analysis was either complete or clear cut, and each opens more questions than it closes. For example, Justice Kennedy views the experiment of the states to protect individual liberty, and here, it happens that twelve states do protect liberty, more than the federal government. But, this view of federalism's aspirational work does not address the 37 or so states that do not protect the liberty interests of their gay citizens from state discrimination let alone the federal government's limited view of gay rights. And, this reversion to assessing traditional state law domains does not advance modern conceptions of federalism that acknowledge most state law is ineffibly intertwined with federal law by virtue of statutory interconnectedness, conditional spending, or other cooperative federalism mechanisms. Instead, Justice Kennedy seemed to be reaching back to the dual sovereign model of doctrinal federalism.
Fortunately, this regressive model of federalism does not seem to hinder the work that Windsor is likely to do with regard to DOMA's far-reaching effects on healthcare. For example, marital status influences not only access to affordable private health insurance (which is usually easier and cheaper through marriage), but also qualification for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program as well as Social Security, the gateway for Medicare at age 65. Section 3 also affected Medicaid enrollment and spend-down requirements for the elderly entering nursing homes. The Medicaid/DOMA issue was presented to the Court in a petition for certiorari that the Court has not granted or denied yet. Back in October, I highlighted the First Circuit's decision in Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, which was mentioned in passing by Justice Kennedy as a case that would suffer vacatur if the Court dismissed for lack of standing. It seems fair to read approval of the First Circuit's decision into Kennedy's cite, which makes me think the Court will not grant the petition.
In addition to public and private health insurance issues, some healthcare delivery issues are likely to be resolved by Windsor as well. For example, many stories have detailed how hospitals have turned away same-sex partners under the guise of HIPAA privacy. Other tales have highlighted how substituted decision-making at the end of life can devolve to estranged family members when same-sex partnerships are not recognized as giving the gay spouse decisional authority that would ordinarily be given without a second thought to a heterosexual spouse. Doctors' offices have refused to recognize same-sex spouses as parents of children who need medical attention. And, care for infants of same-sex couples may become easier now that the Family Medical Leave Act will apply to same-sex marriages. It seems that the federal recognition of gay marriage that will flow from Windsor will be beneficial in many healthcare situtations, even in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Federal agencies have much work to do interpreting the word marriage in the coming days, but it seems that these decisions will facilitate a more functional approach to families' experiences in the healthcare system.
Friday, June 21, 2013
The Supreme Court decided Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International yesterday, a lower-profile case about unconstitutional conditions placed on federal funding. My initial reaction is that the opinion can be read in at least two ways. On the surface, this decision reads like the long line of First Amendment unconstitutional conditions cases such as Rust v. Sullivan and Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez. Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion held that the "Leadership Act" could offer federal funding to eradicate HIV/AIDS throughout the world, and that funding can express discouragement of prostitution by refusing to allow the funds to be used for the promotion of prostitution, but the Court held that the conditions on the funds cannot go so far as to require the organizations using the federal funds to explicitly oppose prostitution. (Fund recipients had expressed the fear that taking an overt stance against prostitution would harm their public health efforts by scaring those in the sex trade away from their doors.) The majority's opinion is a non-controversial read of that line of cases and even attempts to make sense of the somewhat inconsistent application of the doctrine by describing the difference between "conditions that define the limits of the government spending program" and "conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside of the contours of the program itself." I don't necessarily buy this distinction. After all, conditions by necessity define the contours of a program - unless they are nongermane, which seems to underly the Chief Justice's leveraging concept but was never explicitly stated. But, it is one way to describe the differing outcomes in this line of cases that is worth considering.
But then I come to a second possible take: this case reiterates the Roberts Court's willingness to rein in congressional exercises of the spending power. On the heels of NFIB v. Sebelius, the spending aspect of this case is notable, given that this is the second case in two years to express disapproval of conditions on federal spending. Unlike NFIB, which created a novel coercion doctrine without contours, this decision tread familiar ground in its conclusion that conditions on spending cannot violate First Amendment rights. However, even during oral arguments, there were shadows of the ACA controversy from last term. And, although NFIB was not cited in the opinion, both the majority and the dissent (authored by Justice Scalia) contained familiar language about leveraging, coercion, and offers that can't be refused. It is unclear why Justices Scalia and Thomas would uphold this condition on federal funding when they so readily and forcefully rejected the Medicaid expansion last year. The simplest answer is probably that these justices have long rejected the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. (Another possibility is that the dissenting justices agree with the policy of rejecting prostitution (see Justice Scalia's bizarre "free love" comparison) but disagreed with the policy of universal health coverage.)
While the spending power is still robust, I am not sanguine about the conversation the Court is trying to have with Congress about the Spending Clause. It will be interesting to see how the Court furthers this project in the same-sex marriage cases that are sure to be handed down next week. If the cases turn on the doctrine of federalism, then read in combination, the Roberts Court may be continuing its adventures in the Federalism Revolution, once thought done and gone, and now revived through the spending power.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
For those of you who thought we could forget about ongoing ACA litigation, here's a little update: the issue of premium assistance through tax credits for insurance purchased in federal exchanges is alive and well. The plaintiffs in the recently filed Halbig v. Sebelius claim that the ACA does not permit tax credits in federally run exchanges (opponents state that this is merely a statutory oversight, as I wrote in September.) A nice summary of the ongoing litigation on this issue was published yesterday on California Health Line.
These challenges seem to reveal the angst that the ACA is producing as the January 1, 2014 deadline creeps nearer. They also seem to reveal the upside-down federalism occuring in the states that have rejected the state-based exchanges. Those states have exercised their sovereign prerogative, but they are also inviting more federal power into the state, which aggrandizes federal power. Though I don't think these cases have a strong chance of success, if the plaintiffs are successful, undoubtedly we'll see more testing of the fence by states and private litigants.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Although it's probably true that with some imagination every Supreme Court decision could be related back to some aspect of Health Law, today's Post (which, yes, was supposed to be up Friday) is intended to highlight the as yet unreleased Supreme Court decisions of particular interest to Health Law. We don't know exactly which cases will be announced but Scotus believes this will
happen on Thursday June 13th--and they will be "live-blogging" starting "shortly before" 10 AM EST in anticipation of the announcements-- but we do know which ones are left.
Below is an email I sent out today to both our Health Law Certificate Students here at Texas Tech School of Law and to the students enrolled in my new class Constitutional Issues in Health Law. As a side note, I would certainly be interested in hearing from anyone who is/has taught this particular class. My model for it is the one taught by Mary Anne Bobinski when she was at the University of Houston Law Center.
Here, in relevant part, is what I sent out:
" Unlike last year where everyone was a health care lawyer and had something to say about National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (the Affordable Care Act decision) (me included), the cases yet to be decided are not all waving the banner "Health Law"--but are likely to have significant impact in the practice of health law. There are so many sources of information about these cases and what they mean that it would almost be impossible to give a complete list.
Each decision will be posted almost immediately to the Supreme Court's website--and what I recommend is that you read it yourself--and then compare it to the press coverage! CNN will long remember this episode and Jon Stewart's take on it!
Also, it is never possible to avoid the "spin" that anyone describing an issue inevitably puts on it. I've included information when an organization or media outlet has created clarifying material but at this point. Here's an NPR Overview and one from Fox News.
Here are the cases (with parentheticals from Scotus):
Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics Inc.("whether human genes are patentable")
("Whether the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of
2003, 22 U.S.C. § 7631(f), which requires an organization to have a policy explicitly
opposing prostitution and sex trafficking in order to receive federal funding to provide HIV
and AIDS programs overseas, violates the First Amendment. (Kagan, J., recused.)")
("Whether the First Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it created a circuit split and held – in
clear conflict with this Court’s decisions in PLIVA v. Mensing, Riegel v. Medtronic, and
Cipollone v. Liggett Group – that federal law does not preempt state law design-defect
claims targeting generic pharmaceutical products because the conceded conflict between
such claims and the federal laws governing generic pharmaceutical design allegedly can be
avoided if the makers of generic pharmaceuticals simply stop making their products.")
The press is most interested in Hollingsworth v. Perry “gay marriage” and Fisher v. University of Texas (“affirmativeaction” )cases—and we should be interested too. In Hollingsworth because it is possible (although not certain) that the court will add to our understanding of the Constitutionality of statutes (like the one in Texas) which only allow a married couple consisting of a man and a woman to enter into a binding contract with a surrogate mother. It may also change the ability of physicians in states to refuse to treat patients on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or any other factor not currently required by Federal Law or a previous decision of the Supreme Court. LAMBDA Legal has put together an infographic for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.
And in Fisher because it may well affect medical school admissions even though it is a case about undergraduates.
There are also some cases involving important employment law issues—which are often the biggest part of a health lawyer’s case load.
You may not want to be poised at your computer 10 AM Thursday EST to hear what decisions the court is releasing—but you will certainly want to read them for yourself when they are available online.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
The Supreme Court will not be hearing Indiana's argument that it can deny governmental funding to healthcare providers who perform abortions. The Seventh Circruit had held that Indiana's prohibition on government funding was an impermissible limitation on Medicaid's free choice of provider provision, a violation of the statutory rights promised to Medicaid enrollees. Media coverage by such news outlets as NPR and BNA has indicated that the abortion funding prohibition was the sole issue at stake in this petition, noting that this petition was a test case for the ten or so states that have passed legislation aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood. While this point is important and true, the petition submitted by Indiana told a much bigger story.
Indiana used the Seventh Circuit's decision as a vehicle for asking the Court to completely eliminate Section 1983 rights of action for Medicaid enrollees. Indiana had petitioned the Court with a similar question in Indiana Family and Social Services v. Bontrager, the petition for which was denied a few weeks ago. Indiana asked the Court to take the cases as companion cases, which is evident from the petition filed in Secretary of Indiana Family and Social Services Administration v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana, but not in the media coverage. Even though the petition in Bontrager was denied, Court watchers still considered Indiana's petition and Planned Parenthood's cross petition possible grants.
I suspect that the denial was due to agreement with the substance of the Seventh Circuit's decision that this kind of restriction on Medicaid funding is inappropriate (or a desire to stay out of the abortion fray for now, given that Arizona, Hobby Lobby, and others may be filing petitions soon). However, I also suspect that at least four of the justices are willing to revisit the garbled jurisprudence surrounding section 1983 actions thanks to Gonzaga. Michigan filed amicus briefs supporting Indiana's petitions, which were signed by about eleven states, that focused on the federalism and separation of powers implications of section 1983 actions against states that fail to comply with the Medicaid Act. Unsurprisingly, the states' briefs rejected not only section 1983 rights of action, but also Supremacy Clause actions, which were at issue in last term's Douglas v. Independent Living Center. The states cited the dissent authored by Chief Justice Roberts rejecting Supremacy Clause actions by Medicaid enrollees and providers as evidence that all of the private actions against states should end.
So, keep your eyes and ears open - as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Court is hearing an ADEA case in the October 2013 term that may become a referendum on 1983. Or, the Court may be waiting for just the right Medicaid remedy case. Either way, it seems reasonable to expect that the Court will take up the Medicaid enforceability through 1983 question again in the not-too-distant future.