Obamacare Subsidies

In a case involving Federal government payments to Obamacare insurers to “reimburse” them for health coverage plan discounts the government requires those insurers to provide low-income plan buyers, a Federal district court judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (which gives the judge’s ruling nationwide jurisdiction) ruled those payments to be unconstitutional—the payments had been being made even though no funds had been appropriated for the purpose by Congress.

Following President-Elect Donald Trump’s election, an appeal of the ruling to the DC Circuit has been HIAed at the request of the House of Representatives, one of the litigants in the original case at trial.  The pause was requested—and granted—to give the incoming Trump administration time to set up its own actions regarding Obamacare and so render the present case moot.

Now two DC lawyers have filed an “emergency” motion on behalf of two California citizens (can you say, “Yay! Fees!” boys and girls?) to get the appellate court to actively settle the matter, in so far as an intermediate appellate court can settle anything.  The California citizens’ argument, through these lawyers goes something like this:

suspending the litigation until during the power transition would essentially allow the lower-court injunction against the Obamacare subsidies to stand. They say they expect that a Trump-led Justice Department would either dismiss the Obama administration’s appeal or strike a settlement with Republicans allowing the injunction to take effect at some later date.

Litigants are allowed to do that, and it’s irrelevant to the matter at hand.  This case, of the question of constitutionality of the reimbursements, has nothing intrinsic in it concerning the right of litigants to it to ask for a pause pending nearby government action that would render the case irrelevant, nor is there anything present that would prevent a court from granting that pause based on that same nearby pending action.  Indeed, the court would be wasting its time arriving at a ruling when that ruling would soon become irrelevant.

The citizens’ argument continues:

Either way…the effect would be “devastating consequences for the individuals who receive these reductions, as well as for the Nation’s health insurance and health care systems generally.”
…without those payments to help offset deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, more insurers likely would drop their participation on the marketplaces. The exchanges, a centerpiece of the health law, would further wither.

That’s certainly a worthy discussion to have, and the nation has been discussing it for the last six years.  However, it’s a purely political discussion, and it has no place at all in a court.  This argument has no bearing on the case before the DC district or appellate court, and it has no bearing on the Circuit’s decision to hold the appeal in abeyance pending Trump administration action (or inaction).

The citizens also raised this item:

The enrollees essentially argue that if they were allowed to intervene and were to succeed in overturning the injunction against the subsidies, Republicans could no longer say their hands are tied by a court order.

That there is a true fact.  And it’s just as irrelevant as the citizens’ foregoing arguments.  The discussion and the question of whether the subsidies ought to be made are political ones, not legal ones, and so the discussion and associated debates are the exclusive province of the political branches of government: the Congress, ultimately in conjunction with the President.  Whose hands are tied and by what is not a question for a court of law.  Full stop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *