Just when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has won a second major Supreme Court victory in King v. Burwell, conservative critics of the ACA are back on the attack, this time directing their ire towards the medical device tax. Having lost the battle on subsidies, they are now focusing on the device tax as the prime target in their attempt to overturn parts of the ACA. This 2.3% excise tax levied on the medical device industry is stipulated as one of the tax provisions in the ACA. The rationale is that since the ACA provides coverage for many more people, thus bringing more business to the industry, it is reasonable to ask the industry to pay something back to support the programmatic mission of the ACA.
From the beginning, the medical device industry has strongly objected to the excise tax, claiming it will stifle innovation by taking away funds that would otherwise be used for new product research and development. For example, Dr. Thomas Stossel of Harvard Medical School, a conservative voice on health issues, recently wrote: “A 2.3 percent tax on sales can easily mean the difference between commercial success and bankruptcy: borderline profits become losses and investors flee to less risky ventures. Brute force taxes destabilize the fragile innovation ecosystem.” Continue reading →
Chief Justice Roberts, in the majority opinion in King v. Burwell, confirmed that the only insurance spiral now is one onward and upward for the millions of Americans who will benefit from the peace of mind and protections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.
Among the many benefits of the ACA, Exchanges have been operating in some form to increase coverage in every state since 2013. Millions of lives have been changed or saved as a result. Many legal theorists and Supreme Court observers are rightly praising the sound legal reasoning and Constitutional principles in action that led to upholding key aspects of the Affordable Care Act (again).
It is a stark example of the relationship among the three branches created by the Constitution: Legislative drafting and passage, Executive implementation, and Judicial interpretation of language that in this case may have been less than clear. Additionally, the practical implications of the Court’s decision also are particularly salient. […]
Last Christmas, I spent a somewhat panicky inter-semester break writing an amicus brief for King v. Burwell. I was worried that five Supreme Court justices were going to be too tempted by the plaintiffs’ legalistic interpretation of Obamacare’s text, despite ample evidence beyond the text that Congressnever intended to deprive citizens in 34 states of health insurance subsidies.
In a seminar I taught at Boston University, one of my students had proposed a legalistic version of the common sense point that Congress could not possibly have intended the plaintiffs’ result—a legalistic argument that could be fatal to the plaintiffs’ case but that the government could not make—and I decided to spend my break writing and submitting it. […]
The Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell brings an important chapter of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) implementation to a close. The fight about health reform is not over, with Republican presidential candidates promising to repeal the law while supporters of the law push for Medicaid expansion and the development of Accountable Care Organizations.
But it is important to pause and reflect on what we have learned the last five years. This is uncharted territory for supporters of comprehensive health reform who for so many decades studied why legislation was so difficult to enact rather than how complicated it is to implement. […]
Chief Justice Roberts has once again saved a core provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In King v Burwell, a majority of six Justices upheld the validity of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rule interpreting the text of the ACA to permit tax credits to be distributed through both state and federal insurance exchanges. As a result, the millions of Americans receiving subsidies through federally established exchanges in the states that have not chosen to establish their own exchanges will continue to receive them.
Much of the briefing and argument in King involved the legal principle known as Chevron deference, in which courts generally defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of statutes if the statutory language is ambiguous. In this case, the government first argued that the statutory language clearly permitted tax credits to be made available on federally established exchanges. But even if the statute was ambiguous, it contended, Chevron counseled deference to the IRS’ reasonable interpretation of the statute.
The core of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has now survived its second trip to the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in King v Burwell, holding that the federal government may provide subsidies for citizens to purchase health insurance on exchanges that were established by the federal government, rather than by their own state.
A ruling for the challengers (the “King” in King v Burwell) would not only have stopped the flow of subsidies to 6.4 million people currently receiving them, but it would also have disrupted the functioning of the individual insurance markets in the 34 states that have not established their own exchanges. Continue reading →
Bill of Health contributor Gregory Curfman has a new piece up at the Health Affairs Blog discussing the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell in the broader context of Americans’ right to care. From the piece:
Do Americans have a fundamental right to health care? This oft-debated question is timely given the Supreme Court’s stunning ruling yesterday in King v. Burwell, in which health insurance subsidies on the federal exchange were upheld in a 6-3 decision.
Here I will place the King v. Burwell opinion in the larger context of to what extent Americans are provided a right to care. The Constitution itself does not stipulate a general right to health care, but a patchwork of rights to certain aspects of health care have emerged over time from both constitutional and statutory law.
It’s been our great pleasure to collaborate with the Health Affairs Blog on this series stemming from theThird Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium at Harvard Law School. This annual event takes a look back over the prior year and previews the year to come with regard to hot topics in health law.
After the symposium, we asked our speakers to keep the conversation going online by expanding on their topics from different angles or by honing in on particularly intriguing features. These pieces were published on the Health Affairs Blog through the spring and into summer.
We heard more from Kevin Outterson on how to promote innovation in the development of new antibiotics, from Rachel Sachs on whether the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to regulate laboratory-developed tests will really stifle innovation, and from Claire Laporte on the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions on bio-IP.
George Annas weighed in on the Ebola outbreak, which has already almost faded from public consciousness but offers important public health lessons, while Wendy Parmet and Andrew Sussman tackled important developments in tobacco control. […]
For those who feared that the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision would open the door for employers to block contraceptive access for women in the workplace, welcome reassurance has come this week from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. According to the Fifth Circuit, when the Affordable Care Act requires that contraception coverage be available for workers at religiously-affiliated institutions, the Act also accommodates the scruples of employers who have religiously-based objections to contraceptive use.
As the Fifth Circuit observed, employers with religious objections to contraception can shift the responsibility for coverage to their insurers or the federal government. Hence, there is no unlawful burden on those employers from the mandate that health care plans cover the costs of contraception. Continue reading →
With Chief Justice Roberts’ remarkably strong decision today for the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell millions of Americans can now rest assured: affordable health insurance is here to stay. There may not be a constitutional right to health care in the U.S., and thanks to the Court’s 2012 decision regarding the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, millions of citizens (not to mention non-citizens) remain uninsured; but the ACA’s promise of providing affordable coverage to millions of low income Americans is now secure.
The question before the Court in Burwell was whether individuals in the 34 states that rely on a federally-operated health insurance exchange, rather than a state-created exchange, are eligible for the federal tax credits. Without those credits, most people could not afford to buy insurance on the exchanges. Nor would they be subject to the ACA’s mandate to have coverage. As the Court recognized, as healthy people fled the exchanges, the insurance markets in states with federally-operated exchanges would experience a death spiral.
How will the Supreme Court rule on the challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies that help millions of lower- and middle-income Americans afford their health care coverage? According to FantasySCOTUS’s court watchers, who have correctly predicted more than 70 percent of Supreme Court decisions so far this year, Obamacare should remain intact.
This result is not surprising. The arguments in favor of the government are much stronger than are those for the challenger. To be sure, the challengers cite to two lines in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that authorize subsidies for insurance bought on state-operated health insurance exchanges, without mentioning federally-operated state exchanges. Hence, argue the challengers, subsidies should be provided only for insurance purchased on state-operated exchanges, which means in only about 1/3 of states. But other language in ACA indicates that the subsidies are available for insurance purchased on all exchanges. When a statute’s language is ambiguous and there are reasonable alternative interpretations, courts are supposed to defer to the executive branch’s interpretation, not substitute their own interpretation. Continue reading →
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides a number of tools to address longstanding problems in our fragmented health care system. At the national level, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are redefining Medicare through initiatives that promote payment and delivery reform, such as Shared Savings and Value-Based Purchasing. States are also seeking their own opportunities to move away from inefficient systems that reward volume over quality. In particular, state Medicaid programs have the potential to play a major role in these efforts.
Given the number of individuals Medicaid covers, it has the biggest potential impact in improving health care. Medicaid covers more than 1 in 5 Americans, funding more than 16 percent of total personal health spending in the United States. With ACA Medicaid expansion, enrollment increased in 2014 by 8.3 percent and led to an increased overall Medicaid spending growth of 10.2 percent. Total Medicaid spending growth in 2015 is expected to be 14.3 percent with a 13.2 percent enrollment growth. This is not an insignificant portion of both state and federal health care dollars. Thoughtful and concerted reforms to Medicaid have the potential to reduce spending and improve care quality. […]
In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v Burwell, a case that could broadly impact the functioning of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The central question in King v Burwell is whether the federal government may provide subsidies for citizens to purchase health insurance on exchanges that were established by the federal government, rather than by their own state. If the court rules for the government, these subsidies will remain in place. If the court rules against the government, subsidies may no longer be provided to people living in states that have not established their own exchanges.
A decision is expected by the end of June, and a ruling against the government could harm not only the 6.4 million people receiving these subsidies, but also the individual insurance markets in the 34 states that have not established their own exchanges. These markets would likely descend into an actuarial “death spiral,” in which healthier people exit the market in cycles, leaving sicker patients to pay ever-higher premiums. Continue reading →
Increasingly, health systems are studying their own practices in order to improve the quality of care they deliver. But many organizations do not know whether the data they collect at the point of care constitutes research, and if so, whether it requires informed consent. Further, many investigators report that institutional review boards (IRBs) place unreasonable burdens on learning activities, impeding systematic inquiry that is needed to enhance care.
As a result, some commentators have argued that our human research participant protection regulatory framework needs a dramatic overhaul. Yet, it is not the regulations that must change.
Instead, IRBs should educate themselves about quality improvement and comparative effectiveness research, exempt studies that qualify for exemption, and provide waivers to informed consent, when that is appropriate. At the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) must clarify the regulations that have an impact on this type of research, create better guidance about how IRBs should regulate such research, including illustrative case studies to guide IRBs.
A slew of organizations, including most notably the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are talking about creating a “culture of health” as a new way forward in US health policy. The underlying thinking assumes that legislative fixes, including the Affordable Care Act, will continue to be vehemently fought if attitudes towards health do not in some ways fundamentally change. Inherent in the idea of building a culture is incorporating unconventional actors and voices into discussions about how to improve outcomes at a local level. This has led public health strategists to ask new questions about who to involve in community health building efforts with an eye towards employers, small businesses, social service organizations and community institutions.
With this in mind, I recently spoke with Peter Doliber, Executive Director of the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCA about how he sees the Ys fitting into a plan to create health. His background is in public health and hospital administration, having worked in a range of communities to develop programs that increase access to health care, improve health outcomes and create a return on investment. Here’s an abbreviated version of our conversation.
The Affordable Care Act is sprawling. Some of its myriad provisions may (or may not!) reduce healthcare costs. Think of accountable care organizations, the hospital readmission reduction program, or even the preventive services mandate. And so, the Act’s success is often evaluated by asking whether it has helped reduce healthcare costs. (See, e.g., David Cutler here.)
Other of the ACA’s provisions are intended to promote financial security in the face of illness. The Act’s most litigated provisions, requiring that people buy insurance, expanding Medicaid, and creating exchanges, can be understood primarily in this light. And so, the Act’s success is also often evaluated by asking whether it has truly promoted financial security. (See today’s New York Times piece from Margoret Sangor-Katz on the subject of underinsurance post-ACA, or Aaron E. Carroll’s take from December.)
A third way of understanding the ACA’s reforms–and evaluating its success or failure–too often gets left out (as it was by the NY Times here): The ACA can perhaps most coherently be thought of as an equal protection statute.
Some of the behavioral changes that the Affordable Care Act seeks to bring about are prompted directly by the Act or a federal agency acting pursuant to the Act. The “individual mandate” that people buy health insurance is one example; individuals who do not change their behavior to comply with that particular provision of the law are subject to a tax penalty imposed by the IRS.
But much of the work of the ACA is done through regulatory intermediaries that are themselves incentivized by the Act to find ways to bring about the end-user behavioral changes that the ACA is really after. Medicaid expansion is a straightforward example–under the ACA the federal government does not provide insurance coverage to those who make less than 133% of the federal poverty line, rather, it incentivizes states to do so. Accountable Care Organizations are another somewhat more roundabout example: the Act incentivizes doctors to form organizations that will themselves incentivize doctors to coordinate care and patients to obtain more value-maximizing services.
Like any principal-agent relationship, regulating through an intermediary has benefits and costs. The intermediary (state, employer, insurer, doctor, etc.) may be differently positioned than the federal government to obtain information about, and influence the behavior of, the actors whose collective behavior we ultimately care about, for better or worse. And certain intermediaries may be differently responsive to the concerns of those impacted by the policies they enact than the federal government, again for better or worse. Continue reading →
What role did geography, advertising, community, Navigators, and the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) play in consumers’ decisions whether to purchase health insurance in the individual marketplaces? The percentage of potential exchange marketplace enrollees who actually made use of the marketplace to purchase insurance varied widely from state to state for 2014 and 2015.
As of February 22, 2015, for example, there were eight states with enrollment at 50 percent or greater and eight states with enrollment at 25 percent or lower. (Per the Kaiser Family Foundation, the top eight were Vermont, Florida, Maine, DC, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. The bottom eight were Colorado, Ohio, Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa).
It would be an interesting and challenging task to explain this variation empirically. Generating reliable statistical inferences from inter-state comparisons is notoriously difficult, and the variables at play here range from the easily measured (percent of population eligible for subsidies, navigator grant amounts, number of participating insurers, premiums) to the not-so-easily measured (enthusiasm for Obamacare, efficacy of state or federal outreach efforts, geography, education, availability and usefulness of charity care and emergency Medicaid, functionality of state exchange website, population health, availability of health services). […]
Last month, Slate columnist Reihan Salam wrote a provocative article about outrageous hospital prices that are driven, according to Salam, by greed, avarice, and market power. Salam gets a few things dead right, namely his diagnosis that we have a massive hospital pricing problem that is bleeding us dry and that the problem is largely caused by growing hospital market power. However, he misses the mark when laying out policy recommendations to curb monopoly-driven hospital prices.
Antitrust: Salam favors using antitrust enforcement to prevent health care consolidation and to reduce barriers to entry for competition. The biggest problem with antitrust enforcement is that it can do little to reverse or break up existing monopolies. Antitrust laws will be unable to help the vast majority of hospital markets that are already concentrated. Second, even with its improving success rate in court, the FTC simply cannot prevent or police the ongoing wave of hospital mergers, resulting in price increases up to 40% price increases in some areas. To be sure, increased antitrust enforcement is a necessary element of the strategy to control hospital prices to stem the tide of consolidation that is driving prices upward. But antitrust is no silver bullet, especially for hospital markets that have already become noncompetitive. Continue reading →
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the 10th Annual Summit of the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership in McLean, Virginia. The summit brought together more than 400 people working to “mainstream” medical legal partnerships (MLPs). The theory of change is that through these partnerships, the health care sector can begin to more systematically address social, behavioral and environmental determinants of health. Particularly on behalf of patients who are low-income, legal professionals address root causes of illness by working with utilities companies, landlords, social service agencies and the court system.
Concretely, MLPs are programs in which civil legal aid agencies, health care organizations and public health departments cooperate to train their staffs, treat individuals and identify population level problems. Most often, it is civil legal aid agencies that provide expertise in the laws around housing and public benefits, and spend their resources to ensure access to housing subsidies, food benefits, health insurance and employment. Some law firms also contribute pro bono time to the cause, as do some law schools in the form of clinics.