Just two weeks ago I wrote about the Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld nationwide federal subsidies and preserved the Affordable Care Act. In my closing paragraph I said that the legal challenges now seem to be exhausted and its time that we accept the ACA and move on. Personally, I am not a fan of the massive health care reform law but as a businessman and insurance professional I’m growing weary of the uncertainty surrounding the law. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong about King v. Burwell being the final judicial word on the ACA.
There looms another potential judicial dagger aimed at the heart of the ACA in the lesser-publicized case of Sissel v. HHS. The case lost at the D.C. Circuit when the three-judge panel applied logic that resembled a mental version of the game “Twister.” The plaintiffs are now seeking an en banc review of the case at the D.C. Circuit, and the next stop could be the Supreme Court. [sigh] Here we go again. What is an insurance professional attempting to help their clients with health insurance and benefit plans to do?
At its core, Sissel’s argument is that the ACA violates the Origination Clause of the Constitution which requires that all taxation bills must originate in the House of Representatives. In the murky legislative mechanics that gave us the ACA, the bill originated in the Senate. When the original 2012 Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling came down, it upheld the individual mandate because SCOTUS ruled that the monetary penalty for not purchasing health insurance was actually a tax. Chief Justice John Roberts took a lot of heat for that tortured legal conclusion, just as he did for last month’s interpretation of the law’s language regarding subsidies. The two milestone SCOTUS rulings on the ACA have seemed to give incredible deference to the ACA and its intentions, more than its language.
If Sissel v. HHS makes it to the SCOTUS in the near future, things will get very interesting. The biggest problem for SCOTUS is that its 2012 ruling that proclaimed the ACA’s penalities to be taxes now gives Sissel an opening to challenge the entire law as a violation of the Constitution’s Origination Clause. On its face, I wonder how Chief Justice Roberts will reconcile what appears to be a slam dunk argument. How can SCOTUS possibly rule that the law includes taxes as the justification for upholding the individual mandate, and then not rule the entire law to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Origination Clause?
What happens next will be very interesting. SCOTUS could refuse to take up the case and let the D.C. Circuit’s ruling against Sissel stand. The problem with that is that the D.C. Circuit’s ruling essentially obliterates the Origination Clause, and SCOTUS may not be able to stomach that precedent. If SCOTUS does take up the case, all bets are off. Personally, I thought the plain language at the core of the issue in King v. Burwell was a slam dunk and I was wrong. I am actually somewhat intrigued by the notion of a trifecta ruling in favor of the ACA and especially the judicial acrobatics that would most certainly come out of such a ruling on Sissel v. HHS.
I can anticipate a few such legal gyrations… SCOTUS might rule that the ACA bill did actually originate in the House because there was some monkey-business with “empty shell” bills from the House that were filled with the ACA language by the Senate. That’s a political game that the nation’s Founders certainly did not intend but SCOTUS seems to be willing to give more weight to certain intentions than others these days (see King v. Burwell). Another way out could be to somehow massage the D.C. Circuit’s logic that declared the ACA’s taxes were not intended to raise revenue but to expand health insurance. So the ACA included a tax in order to uphold the individual mandate but it’s not a tax in the sense that it is not a revenue-raising bill that must originate in the House. Huh? What is a tax if not a means for government to raise revenue? Good luck John Roberts.
One thing is certain… I do not envy my insurance industry colleagues who specialize in the health insurance market these days. Does the ACA cover whiplash?