Plaintiffs in Virginia ACA Subsidy Case Ask for Supreme Court Review
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging whether the federal government can provide subsidies to U.S. residents who purchase coverage through the Affordable Care Act's federal exchanges have asked the Supreme Court to hear their case, Politico reports.
Four plaintiffs in the Virginia case -- King v. Burwell -- have petitioned the Supreme Court after a three-judge panel for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the subsidies (Winfield Cunningham, Politico, 7/31).
The plaintiffs are challenging a May 2012 Internal Revenue Service rule that allows subsidies to be offered through the federal exchanges.
The plaintiffs argued that the IRS rule should be invalidated because it contradicts what Congress originally intended in the ACA. Numerous ACA opponents also have argued that IRS exceeded its legal authority by issuing the rule.
In the 4th Circuit Court's ruling, the three judges unanimously agreed that the IRS rule was "a permissible exercise of the agency's discretion." They noted that the ACA's language is "ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations" and thus deferred to IRS (California Healthline, 7/23).
On the same day the 4th Circuit Court issued its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a conflicting ruling -- that the subsidies are illegal -- in a similar case, Halbig v. Burwell. According to Reuters, that conflict between rulings presents a reason for the Supreme Court to hear the case (Medhora/Penumudi, Reuters, 7/31).
Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago social service and public health professor, said it is likely the plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court to avoid an en banc ruling, or full D.C. Circuit court review, of the Halbig case, because the full D.C. Circuit Court "would almost certainly overrule the 2-1 decision that was made previously."
Legal experts said it is unclear whether the high court would take up the case, particularly if the conflicting decisions are cleared up in a review by the full D.C. appeals court (Herman, Modern Healthcare, 7/31).
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration as early as Friday plans to file a request for a full-court review of the Halbig case (Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 7/31).
Plaintiffs Hope for Quick Resolution
Sam Kazman -- general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is funding the King suit -- said the group wants to resolve the case as quickly as possible because the outcome could affect millions of U.S. residents. He added, "A fast resolution is also vitally important to the states that chose not to set up exchanges, to the employers in those states who face either major compliance costs or huge penalties, and to employees who face possible layoffs or reductions in their work hours as a result of this illegal IRS rule." He said the Supreme Court petition is "the next step" in getting that resolution (Politico, 7/31).
According to the Los Angeles Times' "Nation Now," the plaintiffs filed the appeal as quickly as possible in hopes that the Supreme Court will take up the case in a few months and issue a ruling by next spring.
Meanwhile, an en banc review in the D.C. appeals court of the Halbig ruling would not result in a decision until next year, delaying any possible Supreme Court decision until 2016 (Savage, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/31).
Each justice on the Supreme Court will vote whether to accept or reject the petition. According to Modern Healthcare, a minimum of four justices must vote to accept the case for the court to hear it (Modern Healthcare, 7/31).
According to the Washington Times, the case could be the third challenging the ACA that to reaches the Supreme Court (Washington Times, 7/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.