The U.S. House and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services on Monday asked a federal appeals court to freeze for another 90 days a dispute over billions of dollars in insurance industry subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, a delay that could further unnerve the health insurance markets.
The lawfulness of the subsidies—which the government pays to health insurers as part of a cost-sharing program to reduce premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses for low-income consumers—is the centerpiece of a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. An estimated 6 million consumers participate in the cost-sharing program.
The D.C. Circuit in December put the case on hold to allow the U.S. House of Representatives, which sued over the propriety of the subsidies, and the incoming Trump administration to decide whether and how to resolve the dispute. The court set a May 22 deadline for the lawyers to advise the panel judges on the next steps in the litigation.
“The parties continue to discuss measures that would obviate the need for judicial determination of this appeal, including potential legislative action,” House general counsel Thomas Hungar wrote in the filing, also signed by the Justice Department’s Alisa Klein, an appellate lawyer in the Civil Division.
U.S. House Republicans in 2014 sued health regulators to stop the government from making those payments to insurers, arguing that Congress never permitted them in the first place. A federal trial judge, Rosemary Collyer, ruled for the U.S. House in May 2016. The Obama administration’s Justice Department, representing the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, filed the appeal.
Donald Trump’s win in November set up a tricky situation for Republicans, who are now facing off in court against the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department and HHS Secretary Tom Price. A settlement wouldn’t automatically render void the reasoning behind Collyer’s injunction that blocked the cost-sharing program. Former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department wanted the ruling overturned on the ground the House didn’t have standing to sue in the first place. That institutional concern could cut across party lines.
A group of insurance, medical and business associations—including America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Medical Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—on May 19 urged Congress to fund cost-sharing reduction payments, known as CSRs.
(Image: Allison Bell)