Category Archives: Healthcare.gov

Do the Anti-Kickback and Stark Laws Apply to Private Payors?

Good question.

Anti-Kickback statutes (AKS) and Stark law are extremely important issues in health care. Violations of these laws yield harsh penalties. Yet, many healthcare professionals have little to no knowledge on the details of these two legal beasts.

The most common question I get regarding AKS and Stark is: Do AKS and Stark apply to private payers? Health care professionals believe, if I don’t accept Medicare or Medicaid, then I don’t need to worry about AKS and Stark. Are they correct??

The general and overly broad response is that the Stark Law, 42 USC § 1395nn, only applies to Medicare and Medicaid. The AKS, 42 USC § 1320a-7b(b)),applies to any federal healthcare program.

Is there a difference between AKS and Stark?

Answer: Yes. As discussed above, the first difference is that AKS applies to all federal healthcare programs. This stark difference (pun intended) makes the simple decision to not accept Medicare and Medicaid, thus allowing you to never worry about AKS, infinitely more difficult.

Let’s take a step back… What are AKS and Stark laws and what do these laws prohibit? When you Google AKS and Stark, a bunch of legal blogs pop up and attempt to explain, in legalese, what two, extremely esoteric laws purport to say, using words like “renumeration,” “knowing and willful,” and “federal healthcare program.” You need a law license to decipher the deciphering of AKS and Stark. The truth is – it ain’t rocket science.

The AKS is a criminal law; if you violate the AKS, you can be prosecuted as a criminal. The criminal offense is getting something of value for referrals. You cannot refer patients to other health care professionals in exchange for money, reduced rent, use of laboratory equipment, referrals to you, health services for your mother, marketing, weekly meals at Ruth’s Chris, weekly meals at McDonalds, oil changes, discounted theater tickets, Uber rides, Costco coupons, cooking lessons, or…anything of value, regardless the value. 

Safe harbors (exceptions to AKS) exist. But those exceptions better fit squarely into the definition of the exceptions. Because there are no exceptions beyond the enumerated exceptions.

AKS is much more broad in scope than Stark. Other than Medicare and Medicaid, AKS applies to any health care plan that utilizes any amount of federal funds. For example, AKS applies to Veterans Health Care, State Children’s Health Programs (CHIP), Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, and many other programs with federal funding. Even if you opt to not accept Medicare and Medicaid, you may still be liable under AKS.

Stark law, on the other hand, is more narrow and only applies to Medicare and Medicaid. I find the following “cheat sheet” created by a subdivision of the Office of Inspector General to be helpful in understanding AKS and Stark and the differences between the two:

One other important aspect of Stark is that is considered “strict liability,” whereas AKS requires a proving of a “knowing and willful” action.

Feel free to print off the above chart for your reference. However, see that little asterisk at the bottom of the chart? It applies here as well.

The Effects of Medicaid Expansion under the ACA: Findings from a Literature Review — The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Research on the effects of Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can help increase understanding of how the ACA has impacted coverage; access to care, utilization, and health outcomes; and various economic outcomes, including state budgets, the payer mix for hospitals and clinics, and the employment and labor market. These findings also may…

via The Effects of Medicaid Expansion under the ACA: Findings from a Literature Review — The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

“A Modest Proposal for the ACA Employer Mandate”

We all know about the ACA employer mandate. It placed a tremendous burden on employers, many of whom will only feel this burden weighing them down as we ring in the new year because, starting in 2016, companies with over 50 employees must offer health insurance to full time employees (those who work over 30 hours per week).

So how much does it cost you, as an employer, to hire an employee? Are there exceptions? Are there loopholes?

We will get to the first question in a second. The answer to the last two questions is a “yes,” which will be discussed further in this blog.

Cost of an employee

Employers have to pay Social Security tax, Medicare tax, state unemployment insurance, and, now in 2016, health care insurance benefits (if the company has 50+ employees).

Social Security tax is 6.2%. Medicare tax is 1.45%. State unemployment tax differs from state to state, but it can range from 0% to 12.27% (Massachusetts). For the sake of clarity, we will use 5%.

Health insurance benefits also can vary greatly depending on the plan. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Education Trust 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey, annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $17,545 this year, up 4 percent from last year, with workers on average paying $4,955 towards the cost of their coverage.

This means that the employer, on average, is paying $12,490 per year per employee for health care benefits.

Assuming a base salary of $70,000, an employer would spend:

Social Security tax: $4,340

Medicare tax: $1,015

State unemployment tax: $350

Health care insurance benefits: $12,490

For a whopping total of $18,195 per year.

Think about this…if you offer your employee a salary of $70,000/year, he/she has to produce revenue for that company of, at least, $88,195 per year in order for you to break even. As you well know, successful companies are not in the business of breaking even, so you will expect your employee to create, at least, over $90,000 of profit in order to be paid a salary of $70,000.

None of the above contemplate a 401K plan. If you’re in a position to offer your employees a 401K plan, they will need to be that much more profitable.

So how can you, as the employer of a home health company, a long term care facility, a dentist practice, or other health care provider decrease the amount of money spent on health care benefits?

“A Modest Proposal for the ACA Employer Mandate”

Before we begin our journey of “A Modest Proposal for the ACA Employer Mandate,” I would like to give a bit of an English lesson on satire, lest one of you miss it. Satire is defined as, “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” It is burlesque. And so I write this blog in the vein of Jonathon Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” (for those of you who have not heard of it, I suggest you click on the link above). For the faint of heart, those easily offended, or those too lazy to click on the link, I suggest not reading further.

Below is my “A Modest Proposal for the ACA Employer Mandate.”

  1. Hire childless singles.

Childless singles are cheaper to insure. So screen your potential employees. Ask whether they intend to have children and warn them that you operate a non-child company. Explain that if you discover that any employee has a dependent child it will result in immediate termination. Bonuses for those who undergo voluntary hysterectomies or vasectomies.

2. Hire old people.

People over 65 are eligible for Medicare. They’re loyal; they don’t talk back. The only things they complain about are their ailments. Many expect little pay because they, or their parents, went through the Great Depression. You can be sure that they will not spend their time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media because they don’t know how. If the position involves driving, you can sure they will get no speeding tickets. Best of all, you know that you are not undertaking a long-term commitment.

3. Hire poor people.

People below the poverty line are eligible for Medicaid. They rarely talk on the phone to friends. Many even only talk to themselves, which is fantastic (and not creepy at all) in the workplace. They are never late with excuses of bad traffic; and their homes are, most likely, going to be very near by (and maybe right out front). They never try to “one-up” the Joneses’. You will never see them bragging about their new Iphones, Louis Vuitton bag, or Mercedes Benz.

5. Hire lazy people.

People who work under 30 hours per week do not get offered health care coverage. Hire employees who enjoy video games too excess. All the better if they own Assassin’s Creed: Victory, Battlefield: Hardline, and Dying Light. It’s an office party every day – no need to worry about them working over 30 hours per week – they like vodka, bourbon, and gin. It’s even better if they enjoy the occasional (daily) marijuana. Embrace a drug-friendly environment.

If you follow the above hiring tips, you too can avoid paying the ACA employer mandate. Remember, the key to success is to only hire childless singles, and old, poor, and lazy people.

And you’ve struck gold if you hire a childless, old, lazy, poor, single person….Goldmine!

Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare! Three Judges Dissent, Calling the Decision Absurd!

Mark this day, June 25,2015 (also my daughter’s 10th birthday) as also the birth of a new state.  Our country, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, now consists of 51 states.  The Health and Human Services (HHS) is now our 51st state.

Today the Supreme Court decided the King v. Burwell case.

If you recall, this case was to determine whether the plain language of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be upheld.  According to the ACA, people were to receive tax subsidies or “premium tax credits” to subsidize certain purchases of health insurance made on Exchanges, but only those enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under [§18031]. §36B(c)(2)(A).

See blog.

“Specifically, the question presented is whether the Act’s tax credits are available in States that have a Federal Exchange.”

“At this point, 16 States and the District of Columbia have established their own Exchanges; the other 34 States have elected to have HHS do so.”

In Justice Scalia’s words, “This case requires us to decide whether someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary gets tax credits. You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it. In order to receive any money under §36B, an individual must enroll in an insurance plan through an “Exchange established by the State.” The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a State. So an Exchange established by the Secretary is not an Exchange established by the State—which means people who buy health insurance through such an Exchange get no money under §36B.”

However, the majority disagrees.

Apparently, HHS is now our 51st state.

The upshot of the Decision is that the majority found that, despite our country’s deep-rooted, case law precedent that when a statute is unambiguous that the plain meaning of the statute prevails.  Despite hundreds of years of the Supreme Court upholding statutes’ clear meanings, the Supreme Court, in this case, decided that “[i]n extraordinary cases, however, there may be reason to hesitate before concluding that Congress has intended such an implicit delegation.”

Therefore, when the ACA became law, and the word “state” was used, surely, Congress meant “state and/or federal government.”  Or, on the other hand, let’s just call HHS a state for the purpose of the ACA.

In Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito’s opinions, the decision is absurd.  In the dissent they write, “The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says “Exchange established by the State” it means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.” That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.”

Medicare chief Tavenner stepping down; oversaw rocky health care rollout

News Alert: Medicare Chief Tavenner stepping down!!!! 

Here is the article:

WASHINGTON — Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner — who oversaw the rocky rollout of the president’s health care law — says she’s stepping down at the end of February.
In an email Friday to staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tavenner, a former Virginia health secretary and hospital executive, said she’s leaving with “sadness and mixed emotions.”

Tavenner survived the 2013 technology meltdown of HealthCare.gov, but was embarrassed last fall when she testified to Congress that 7.3 million people were enrolled for coverage. That turned out to be an overcount that exaggerated the total by about 400,000.

Calling Tavenner “one of our most esteemed and accomplished colleagues,” Health and Human Services Secrerary Sylvia M. Burwell said the decision to leave was Tavenner’s.
Principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt will take over as acting administrator.

Obama’s Executive Order, Its Impact on Health Care Costs, and the Constitutionality of Executive Orders

Pres. Barack Obama will address the nation tonight at 8 pm (Thursday, November, 20, 2014). He is expected to discuss his executive order that will delay deportations of up to 5 million migrants.

What does an executive order on immigration have to do with Medicaid? Well, you can bank on the fact that almost none of the 5 million people has private health care coverage….which means, there is a high likelihood that most, if not all, the people would qualify for Medicaid.

With the expansion of Medicaid in many states, adding another 5 million people to the Medicaid program would be drastic.  Think about it…in NC, approximately 1.8 million people rely on Medicaid as their insurance.  5 million additional Medicaid recipients would be like adding 3 more North Carolinas to the country.

So I looked into it…

The Kaiser Family Foundation website states that even immigrants who have been in America over 5 years are sometimes still barred from getting Medicaid and those people would remain uninsured.  The Kaiser website states that under current law “some lawfully present immigrants who are authorized to work in the United States cannot enroll in Medicaid, even if they have been in the country for five or more years.”

By law, only immigrants who have green cards are entitled to enroll in Medicaid or purchase subsidized health care coverage through the ACA. Usually those immigrants with green cards are on the course to become citizens.

Regardless of whether Obama’s executive order tonight will or will not allow the 5 million people Medicaid coverage (which it will not), the executive order absolutely will greatly increase health care costs

The truth is that, with or without Obama’s executive order, the government already funds some health care for undocumented immigrants. We have an “emergency Medicaid” program and it pays hospitals to provide emergency and maternity care to immigrants if: 1) he or she otherwise would be Medicaid eligible if they weren’t in the country illegally or 2) he or she are legally present in this country for less than 5 years.  (Which is the reason that ER wait times are so long…if you have no health insurance and you get sick, the ER is precisely where you go).

However, with the additional 5 million people living within the borders of USA, it is without question that the “emergency Medicaid” funds will sharply escalate as hospitals provide more emergency care. ER waits times will, inevitably, increase. Health care costs, in general, surge as the population increases.  And the addition of 5 million folks in America is not a “natural” increase in population.  It will be like we added additional states.  Overnight and with the stroke of a pen, our population will grow immensely.  I guess we will see whether we get “growing pains.”

An act of Congress will still be required before the undocumented immigrants impacted by the executive order would be allowed to participate in the Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage.

As to the Constitutionality of executive orders…

Executive orders are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.  Many people interpret the nonexistence of executive orders in the Constitution as barring executive orders.

Article I Section I of the Constitution clearly states that all legislative powers reside in Congress. However, an executive order is not legislation. Technically, an executive order is a policy or procedure issued by the President that is a regulation that applies only to employees of the executive branch of government.

Nonetheless, our country has a vast history of president’s issuing executive orders. Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order to engage military in the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order arming the military before we entered World War I, and Franklin Roosevelt approved Japanese internment camps during World War II with an executive order.

Regardless of your political affiliation, in my opinion, it is very interesting that Obama would initiate an executive order regarding immigration given his past statements over the years complaining about past presidents’ executive orders being unconstitutional.

In 2008 campaign speeches, Obama regularly emphasized the importance of civil liberties and the sanctity of the Constitution.

In fact, in speeches, Obama stated, “most of the problems that we have had in civil liberties were not done through the Patriot Act, they were done through executive order by George W. Bush. And that’s why the first thing I will do when I am president is to call in my attorney general and have he or she review every executive order to determine which of those have undermined civil liberties, which are unconstitutional, and I will reverse them with the stroke of a pen.”

Whether or not people believe that executive orders are constitutional, it is indisputable that presidents on both sides of the aisle have issued executive orders.

Reagan and Bush issued executive orders. Although there is an argument that those executive orders came on the heels of congressional bills, as adjustments. Neither Reagan nor Bush simply circumvented Congress.

Going back to tonight’s anticipated executive order allowing 5 million migrants to remain in America…

While the executive order will not allow the 5 million people immediate access to Medicaid and other subsidized health care, it will allow 5 million more uninsured people to exist in America, which will, undoubtedly, increase health care costs and ER visits. And, eventually, the additional 5 million people will be eligible for Medicaid, subsidized health care, and all other benefits of living in America.

Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Citizens in NC and 26 Other States Can Receive Tax Credits for Health Care Premiums!!

With a decision that, I can only imagine, ricocheted against the White House walls, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear King v. Burwell this past Friday, November 7, 2014, despite Obama’s administration’s request for the Supreme Court to postpone granting certiorari in order to wait for a D.C. circuit to re-visit an opinion, the Halbig ruling.

The Supreme Court’s decision in King could, potentially, have devastating consequences on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, I write that last sentence with an asterisk. Journalists across the country are entitling articles, “Obamacare Is Doomed! Everybody Panic!”, “The Supreme Court Might Gut Obamacare. Your State Could Save It,” and “Obamacare vs. Supreme Court.” These titles to articles are misleading, at best, and factually incorrect, at worst. King v. Burwell is actually not an attack on the ACA. But I will explain later…

First of all, what the heck is certiorari…or “cert”, as many attorneys call it?

A writ of certiorari is actually an order from a higher court to a lower court demanding a record in a case so that the higher court may review the lower court’s decision. A writ of certiorari is the instrument most used by the Supreme Court to review cases. The Supreme Court hears such a small, minute fraction of lawsuits that when the Supreme Court “grants cert,” it is a big deal.

I have written in the past about these same two appellate court cases, which were both published July 22, 2014, within hours of one another, regarding the Health Care Premium Subsidies Section of the Affordable Care Act. These two cases yield polar opposite holdings. In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court found that the clear language of the ACA only allows the health care premium subsidies in states that created their own state-run health care exchanges, i.e, residents in NC along with 35 other states would not be eligible for the subsidies. See my blog: Halbig: Court Holds Clear Language of the ACA Prohibits Health Care Subsidies in Federally-Run Exchanges.

Juxtapose the 4th Circuit Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which held that “For reasons explained below, we find that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, however, we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

So the two cases came to two entirely different conclusions. Halbig: ACA is clear; King: ACA is ambiguous.

Well, for everyone else, that is as clear….as mud.

When the D.C. court decided Halbig, it was not an en banc decision. In English, this means that the entire bench of judges in the D. C. Circuit did not hear the case, only a panel of three (which is the usual way for a case to be heard on appeal to a federal circuit). The Obama administration, along with other proponents of the ACA, hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would deny cert to King until the D.C. court could re-visit its decision, this time en banc.

Yet, this past Friday, the Supreme Court opted to consider King v. Burwell.

The sole issue to be decided is: Whether the Internal Revenue Service may permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under Section 1321 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

How is King v. Burwell NOT an attack on the ACA?

The plaintiffs in King are not asking the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA, even, in part. They are asking the Court to uphold the plain language of the ACA by holding that the IRS’s interpretation of the ACA is erroneous. Let me explain…

Section 1311 directs states to establish exchanges, and Section 1321 directs the federal government to establish exchanges “within” any state that opts to not set up its own state-run exchange, e.g., NC.

Section 1401 authorizes subsidies for people whose household income falls between 100 and 400% of the federal poverty level, who are not eligible for qualified employer coverage or other government programs, and who enroll in coverage “through an Exchange established by the State.” (emphasis added). These 3 criteria are crystal clear based on the plain language of the statute.

The statute makes no provision for subsidies in states that opt not to create their own exchange but, instead, allow the federal government to create an exchange within its state.

The ACA was intended to create penalties if the states do not establish their own exchanges. For example, the subsidies are not allowed to citizens of states without state-created exchanges.

In August 2011, the IRS issued a proposed rule [add link] announcing it would provide tax credits (and implement the resulting penalties) in states with federal exchanges, too. IRS officials later admitted to Congress that they knew the statute did not authorize them to issue tax credits through federal exchanges…Oops…

The proposed rule received much negative feedback based on the fact that the IRS appeared to have no statutory basis for the rule. Nonetheless, the proposed rule was finalized in May 2012, and lawsuits ensued…

Oklahoma began the litigation with Pruitt v. Burwell in September 2012. In September 2014, a federal district court held that the plain language of the ACA does not allow subsidies in states with federally-run exchanges. In May 2013, Halbig v. Burwell was filed, and in September 2013, King v. Burwell was filed.

So, much to the contrary of popular belief, these lawsuits are not “against the ACA” or “proving the unconstitutionality of the ACA.” Instead, these lawsuits are “against” the IRS interpreting the ACA to allow tax credits for all states, even if the state has a federally-run exchange.

Will it negatively impact the ACA if the plaintiffs win? That would be a resounding yes.

Oral argument could be as soon as March 2015.

Obamacare, Health Care Exchanges, Subsidies, Typos, and Speak-o’s

Have you ever said something that you immediately wished you could put back in your mouth? I know I have! In fact, just recently, I was eating lunch with my husband and one of our closest friends Josh. Josh, his wife, Tracey, my husband Scott and I ride horses together almost every weekend. Our daughters come with us, and it’s a fun family event. So, I should have known that a manger is a tool used in barns to hold the hay for the horses to eat, not just baby Jesus’ bed.

Josh tells me that he is going to pick up a manger. To which I respond, “Josh, why do you need a baby manger?” If words came out of your mouth on a string, I would have grabbed that string and shoved it back into my mouth. Of course, my husband had no end to his ribbing. “Josh, why do they sell baby mangers in Tractor Supply?” And “Baby Jesus was so lucky that someone put a manger in that barn for when he was born.”

At that point, I would have liked to claim that I had a “speak-o.” You know, like a typo, but for speech.

At least this is what Jonathan Gruber has claimed…that he made a speak-o in 2012.

Jonathan Gruber is one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He drafted much of the language included in the ACA. After the ACA was passed, Gruber was interviewed by a number of journalists regarding specific sections of the ACA. One of the sections on which he spoke was the section that allowed for health care premium subsidies for people enrolled in the program who reside in states which created state-run health care exchanges as opposed to states that opted to use the federal exchange. For ease of this blog, I will call this ACA section the “Health Care Premium Subsidies Section.”

As I am sure you are aware if you follow my blog, two appellate court cases came out July 22, 2014, regarding the Health Care Premium Subsidies Section, with polar opposite holdings. In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court found that the clear language of the ACA only allows the health care premium subsidies in states that created their own state-run health care exchanges, i.e, residents in NC along with 35 other states would not be eligible for the subsidies. See my blog: “Halbig: Court Holds Clear Language of the ACA Prohibits Health Care Subsidies in Federally-Run Exchanges.”

Juxtapose the 4th Circuit Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which held that “For reasons explained below, we find that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, however, we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

The two cases were released within hours of each other and came to two entirely different conclusions. Halbig: ACA is clear; King: ACA is ambiguous.

Interesting to note is that D.C. is not a state, and the 4th Circuit clearly embraces five states.

In my Halbig blog, I explain the legal analysis of statutory interpretation. I also explain that based on my reading of the Health Care Premium Subsidies Section, I tend to side with the D.C. courts and opine that the Section is not ambiguous.

If, however, a court finds that the statutory language is ambiguous, the court defers to the agency’s interpretation “so long as it is based on a permissible construction of the statute,” which is clear case law found in the 4th Circuit.

Therefore, once the 4th Circuit determined that the statute is ambiguous, the court made the correct determination to defer to the IRS’ ruling that all states could benefit from the subsidies.

Yet another approach to statutory interpretation is considering the legislative intent. The courts may attempt to evaluate legislative intent when the statute is ambiguous. In order to discern legislative intent, courts may weigh proposed bills, records of hearing on the bill, amendments to the bill, speeches and floor debate, legislative subcommittee minutes, and/or published statements from the legislative body as to the intent of the statute.

Recently, some journalists have uncovered 2012 interviews with Gruber during which he states that the Health Care Premium Subsidies Section was drafted intentionally to induce the states to create their own health care subsidies and not rely on the federal exchange. How’s that for intent?

The exact language of that part of the 2012 interview is as follows:

Interviewer: “You mentioned the health information [sic] Exchanges for the states, and it is my understanding that if states don’t provide them, then the federal government will provide them for the states.”

Gruber: “I think what’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get the tax credits… I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it.”

What do you think? You think Gruber is pretty explicit as to legislative intent? Well, at least in 2012….

In 2014, Gruber states, as to his 2012 comment, “I honestly don’t remember why I said that. I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake. People make mistakes. Congress made a mistake drafting the law and I made a mistake talking about it.”

According to Gruber, Congress made a typo; Gruber made a speak-o.

“It’s unambiguous that it’s a typo,” Gruber tells reporter Chris Matthews from NBC and MSNBC.

Um…a typo when the statement is spoken? Hence, the new word “speak-o” blowing up Twitter.

If Gruber’s statement was truly a speak-o, it was a re-occurring speak-o. Gruber also made two speeches in which he listed three possible threats to the implementation of Obamacare. In both cases the third “threat” was that states would not set up exchanges and, instead, would rely on the federal government.

I anticipate that Gruber’s 2012 and contrary 2014 statements will be at issue as these cases, Halbig and King, move forward.

As for me, I would like to invoke my own speak-o’s. I can only imagine how I will be received when I appear before a court and say, “Your Honor, I apologize. That was a speak-o.”

Halbig: Court Holds Clear Language of the ACA Prohibits Health Care Subsidies in Federally-Run Exchanges

Remember my post, “The Great and Powerful ACA: Are High, Inflated Premiums Hiding Behind the Curtain?” I warned of the possible consequences of Halbig v. Burwell…and it happened.

Halbig v. Burwell was decided earlier today.

The Halbig court held that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) went too far in extending subsidies to those who buy insurance through the federally run, Healthcare.gov website.

The Halbig court ruled that the subsection of the ACA that allows high insurance premium tax credits, according to the plain language of the statute, only applies to those individuals enrolled “through an exchange established by the state.” (emphasis added). Therefore, if Halbig is upheld on en banc review by the D. C. Circuit (see below) or on appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court, residents who reside in two-thirds (or 36) of the states that did not establish state-run health care exchanges (including NC), will not benefit from the health care subsidies.

Looking at the decision through a purely objective, legal lens, I believe the federal court of appeals is correct in its ruling. I also agree that the ruling will have drastic and devastating consequences for the ACA and the people who would have benefited from the health care subsidies.

However, the law governing statutory construction and interpretation is clear. Statutory interpretation is the process by which courts interpret legislation.

For years, the U.S. Supreme Court has been explicit on statutory interpretation. “We begin with the familiar canon of statutory construction that the starting point for interpreting a statute is the language of the statute itself. Absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive.” Consumer Product Safety Commission et al. v. GTE Sylvania, Inc. et al., 447 U.S. 102 (1980).

In other words, if the words of a statute are unambiguous, then the statutory interpretation ends. The clear words of the statute must be followed.

Let me give an example of ambiguous language:

A magazine printed the following: “Rachel Ray enjoys cooking her family and her dogs.” If that were true, Rachel Ray’s family and dogs would be very upset. I am sure what the editor meant to write was “Rachel Ray enjoys cooking, her family, and her dogs.”

It is amazing how important a comma is.

The Halbig court held that the section of the ACA allowing health care subsidies only apply to those enrolled in an exchange established by the state is not ambivalent. Thus, according to statutory interpretation rules, the judicial inquiry ends.

So what happens now?

A request for an en banc ruling by the D. C. Circuit is the next step for Department of Justice. An en banc ruling is a decision made by all the justices, or the entire bench, of an appeals court, instead of a panel selected by the bench. In this case, three federal judges sat on the panel and the case was decided 2-1. An appeals court can only overrule a decision made by one of its panels if the court is sitting en banc.

Looking beyond any en banc ruling, the case could, potentially, be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, especially in light of the importance of the decision and the fact that a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite way literally hours after Halbig was announced. See David King, et al. v. Burwell, et al.

The Fourth Circuit found the ACA ambiguous, and it states, “For reasons explained below, we find that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, however, we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion. We thus affirm the judgment of the district court.”

Bizarre that two courts hold opposing positions on the same issue and publish both decisions on the same day.  It reminds of the old Sam the Sheepdog cartoon, “Duh! Which way did he go? Which way did he go, George?”

Finally, in closing, and on a personal note, I would like to dedicate this blog to my lab-doberman mix, Booker T, who, sadly, passed Sunday.  He was my best friend for over 14 years.  You will be greatly missed, Booker T.  Rest in peace.

Booker T

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Burwell. Burwell Who?

As I am sure most of you have heard, April 10, 2014, Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary to Health and Human Services (HHS), resigned. Some journalists wrote that her resignation came 6 months after “the disastrous rollout of Obamacare,” obviously alluding that she was fleeing from her position as Secretary. But is that why Sebelius left? And who is Sylvia Mathews Burwell?

It is no secret that when Healthcare.gov went live on October 1, 2013, Sebelius called the roll-out a “debacle.” But recent figures show enrollment in Obamacare exchanges has surpassed 7.5 million.

Sunday Sebelius stated that “Clearly, the estimate that it was ready to go Oct. 1 was just flat-out wrong.”

According to Politico Pro, “a White House official said Sebelius told Obama in March that she planned to resign. She felt that the Affordable Care Act trajectory was back on track, and believed “that once open enrollment ended it would be the right time to transition the Department to new leadership.””

It seems that Sebelius did not want to resign during the height of the debacle. She waited until things smoothed out a bit before walking away.

Obama has chosen Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his budget Director, to replace Sebelius.

Who is Burwell?

Burwell

Burwell served as deputy White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration. She also served at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) twice, once as director. She has also worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Speaking of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and people with obscene amounts of money, why don’t people ever set up charities to pay for Medicaid recipients to receive private insurance with the co-pays all covered? If I ever get an obscene amount of money I would set up a Medicaid Foundation. The Emanuel Medicaid Foundation. Look for that in the VERY FAR future, folks.).

Going back to Burwell…she received her bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University. She also received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University. Seriously? Is that a quadruple major from 2 colleges?

Her grandparents were Greek immigrants, and she grew up in West Virginia.

There isn’t much more information on Burwell. She is relatively young (48) and holds a relatively small resume considering the enormous undertaking she is about to assume.

Obama nominated Burwell one day after Sebelius resigned. There is no indication of whether Burwell was Obama’s first choice. It took him one day to replace Sebelius, which is pretty amazing.  Remember, we still haven’t replaced former Medicaid Director, Carol Steckel. Sandy Terrell is still the “Acting Director.” Whew, it has got to be difficult to fill these intimidating positions.

I can only imagine how many people would NOT want to be Secretary of HHS. Talk about a big job! Talk about high stress!

Burwell has not been confirmed yet. Despite Burwell not being a common household name when Obama nominated her, it is without question that Burwell has now stepped into the limelight. If confirmed, Burwell will be one of the most powerful people in health care…and one of the most scrutinized.

Good luck, Burwell!! Make Burwell a household name…for good reasons. And when someone says, “Burwell who?”

Someone else will respond, “That is the Secretary for HHS.”