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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.”

NC: One Head Chef in the Medicaid Kitchen is Enough!

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit opined that “One head chef in the Medicaid kitchen is enough.” (This may be the first time I’ve laughed out loud at a federal court’s decision due to true humor).

The case caption is K.C., a minor child by and through his mother and next friend, Africa H., M.S., a minor child Plaintiff-Intervenor v. Pamela Shipman, in her official capacity as Area Director of Piedmont Behavioral Health Care Mental Health, (and the rest of the caption…) (We will call the case “K.C. v. PBH“).

Let me set the stage:

Plaintiffs-Appellees: a class of Medicaid beneficiaries who suffer from severe developmental disabilities

Defendants-Appellants: PBH, one of 10 MCOs in the State contracted with DMA to manage behavioral health services for Medicaid recipients in certain counties

Issue: Does 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(5), which requires Medicaid to be managed by a single state entity, prohibit PBH from appealing a district court’s entry of preliminary injunction when DMA did not join the appeal?

In the vernacular: Can PBH appeal any Medicaid issue without its “boss” or principal being a party?

Hmmmmm….maybe that was not as “in the vernacular” as I thought. Let me try again: Can the MCOs decide anything about Medicaid unilaterally without DMA?

I’m trying, people.

Anyway, the short answer is, “No.”

42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(5) requires Medicaid to be managed by a single state entity. The 4th District calls this requirement the “single state agency requirement.”

Why is it SO important that a single state agency manage Medicaid that the federal government dictates the same? “To avoid a lack of accountability for the appropriate operation of the program.” Hillburn v. Maher, 795 F.2d 252, 261 (2nd Cir. 1986).

Lack of accountability???? Hmmmmm…How many of my blogs have been devoted to the lack of accountability of the MCOs?

The Hillburn Court stated that, “a single state entity may not diminish[] or alter[] its Medicaid responsibilities based on the action or inaction of other state offices or agencies.”; i.e., DMA cannot divorce itself from the duties of Medicaid merely by contracting out to a private company….or, i.e., DMA is on the hook for whatever happens in Medicaid regardless the player.

As to accountability of the MCOs, here are some of my favorite quotes from K.C. v. PBH:

  • “that agency cannot evade federal requirements by deferring to the actions of other entities.”
  • “PBH is forbidden to “change or disapprove any administrative decision” made by the NCDHHS pursuant to…”
  • “If important litigation decisions made by a single state agency were not “administrative decisions” protected from challenge by another agency, the resulting inefficiency and turmoil would be profound.”
  • “The result of PBH’s interpretation would be a constant state of confusion in the litigation process in which parties (and judges) must not only attempt to argue (or decide) the merits of each case, but where they must first identify which of multiple state entities is even speaking with the state’s final authority.”
  • The single state entity requirement “prohibits precisely what PBH aims to achieve in this appeal: to place itself in the driver’s seat and call the shots on how the state’s Medicaid is to be administered in the face of a clearly contradicted decision by the NCDHHS.”

Read the last two quotes again.  To me, these quotes sound as if PBH is NOT in the driver seat, that DMA is in the driver seat, and that DMA has complete control over the Medicaid system. Maybe I’m wrong. But that’s what it sounds like to me.

It’s been a long time, but I remember my early college philosophy classes, beginning with Logic 101: PBH is not in the driver seat.  PBH is an MCO.  Thus, no MCO is in the driver seat.

K.C. v. PBH also held, “there is no dispute that PBH is an agent of the NCDHHS due to its contract…”

No dispute? In every case I have right now, the MCO (whichever MCO it is) is arguing that it is an independent contractor, not an agent.  Apparently, there is no dispute…I am right 🙂 .

PBH cannot evade a preliminary injunction that continues to run against NCDHHS.  See pages 15-16 of K.C v. PBH (This is SO not the Bluebook style of quoting sources…Sorry).

Granted this decision came out today, but I am counting the seconds until Monday when OAH opens up, so we can implement the beauty of this decision.

One head chef in the Medicaid kitchen is enough!