Thursday, May 12, 2016

Federal Judge Says Obamacare Payments Unconstitutional

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI A federal court judge on Thursday handed House Republicans a victory in their lawsuit against a provision of the Affordable Care Act that funnels government money to insurance companies to reimburse them for keeping out-of-pocket expenses low for policyholders. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, based in Washington, D.C., said the reimbursements, or subsidies, were unconstitutional because they weren't authorized by Congress. Collyer stayed her decision in order to let the Obama administration appeal the ruling, so it won't have an immediate effect on the law. The case is about a $175 million program that authorizes the government to compensate insurers for reducing out-of-pocket expenses for policy holders. House Republicans said those payments were never authorized by the Congress, and thus, were unconstitutional. The administration argued that the money could be distributed anyway. In her opinion, Collyer wrote, “It cannot.” She further wrote, “None of the Secretaries’ extra-textual arguments – whether based on economics, 'unintended' results or legislative history – is persuasive. The Court will enter judgment in favor of the House of Representatives and enjoin the use of unappropriated monies to fund reimbursements due to insurers.” The administration is expected to appeal Thursday's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The ACA has withstood numerous legal challenges over the years, which have resulted in two favorable rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court. The first challenged the fees, or penalties, the law imposes on people who don't buy health insurance. The Supreme Court ruled that the penalties were taxes, and not fees. A second case challenged the constitutionality of premium subsidies paid to lower income people under the law. In New Mexico in 2015, 68 percent of the 55,000 people who bought individual ACA policies were eligible for subsidies.

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