Halbig v. Sebelius is one of two federal lawsuits challenging an illegal IRS rule that attempts to issue ObamaCare’s tax credits in the 34 states that have opted not to establish one of the law’s health insurance “exchanges.” Yesterday, attorneys for the Halbig plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, requested a hearing on that motion before October 1, and filed a second motion also seeking to expedite the case. The first motion requests:
an Order enjoining [the government], pending resolution of the litigation, from applying the IRS regulations extending eligibility for premium assistance subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to individuals who purchase health coverage through Exchanges established by the federal government.
If the court grants that request, ObamaCare implementation will come to a screeching halt.
The Halbig plaintiffs make a compelling case that the IRS is violating federal law, and that the court must resolve the issue before January 1, 2014. If a resolution comes after that date, the plaintiffs will be irreparably injured because they “will be forced either to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate or risk incurring a penalty, and…will further be entirely and forever precluded from purchasing catastrophic coverage for 2014.” In addition:
the balance of the equities and public interest both cut strongly in favor of resolving the legal validity of the IRS Rule now, before billions of taxpayer dollars are illegally expended and before employers make unalterable benefit decisions premised on the Rule. If a ruling invalidating the IRS Rule is delayed until after these events, the result would be utter chaos…It serves everyone’s interests—those of Plaintiffs, the Government, and the public alike—to obtain a prompt ruling on the legal validity of the IRS Rule, so that there will be no need subsequently to confront the logistical nightmare of trying to unscramble and undo the unlawful expenditure of billions of federal dollars. [Emphasis in original.]
Even if the government ultimately prevails, as health-benefits expert Thomas Haynes explains in a supplemental filing, it would unnecessarily and irreparably injure some employers and employees if that happens in 2014 instead of 2013. Brokers who are aware that the availability of these tax credits is uncertain in 34 states will counsel employers not to adjust their employee benefits to take advantage of that still-uncertain new landscape. Those employers and employees would then be locked into spending more on health insurance in 2014 than they would if the litigation had been resolved in 2013.
The Obama administration, however, is in no hurry. In Halbig, for example, government lawyers have blown through the legal deadlines for responding to key plaintiff motions, deadlines that passed months ago. Indeed, they appear to be using every tactic at their disposal to guarantee these cases will not be resolved this year.
Whether the Obama administration’s lawyers simply have a lot on their plate, or are intentionally trying to prejudice judges against ruling for the plaintiffs – by guaranteeing that such a ruling would result in maximum chaos – a preliminary injunction is in order.
The Congressional Budget Office has released its cost estimate of the Obama administration’s one-year repeal delay of ObamaCare’s employer mandate and anti-fraud provisions. The CBO expects the Obama administration’s unilateral rewriting of federal law (my words, not CBO’s) will increase federal spending by $3 billion in 2014 and reduce federal revenues by a net $9 billion, thereby increasing the federal debt by $12 billion. If President Obama keeps this up, Congress may have to raise the debt ceiling or something.
Where is that $3 billion of new spending going? The CBO estimates the administration’s action will lead to about half a million additional people receiving government subsidies, including through ObamaCare’s Exchanges:
All told, as a result of the announced changes and new final rules, roughly 1 million fewer people are expected to be enrolled in employment-based coverage in 2014 than the number projected in CBO’s May 2013 baseline, primarily because of the one-year delay in penalties on employers. Of those who would otherwise have obtained employment-based coverage, roughly half will be uninsured and the others will obtain coverage through the exchanges or will enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), CBO and JCT estimate.
Which makes the president’s delay of the employer mandate and anti-fraud provisions consistent with his administration’s goal of hooking enough voters on government subsidies to affect electoral outcomes and votes in Congress.
The Obama administration will announce in August, probably in a classic Friday news dump, that (1) it will offer Exchange subsidies to workers enrolled in multiemployer union plans, and (2) it will pay the FEHBP contribution toward the Exchange premiums for members of Congress and their staffs.
Here’s what makes this prediction interesting: neither of those things would be legal. So, for the record, I really hope this prediction does not come true.
The last time I made a prediction was this one from December 2012:
HHS maintains they’ll have these [Exchange] things up and running by October 2013. I don’t know anyone who is confident about that and I’m ready to predict that they will not.
That prediction proved true when the Obama administration announced the eligibility verification system for Exchange subsidies would not be ready on time, and took the not-legal step of delaying enforcement of the eligibility rules for a year.
ObamaCare’s gravest sin may be that it has offended America’s highest caste: members of Congress and their staffs. Thanks to an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the law provides:
the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are created under this Act…or offered through an Exchange established under this Act…
In effect, ObamaCare throws members of Congress out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (where most members and staff obtain health insurance) and offers them no other choice but to enroll in coverage through one of ObamaCare’s Exchanges. But here’s the kicker: though the federal government currently pays thousands of dollars of the cost of the congresscritters’ FEHBP coverage, neither ObamaCare nor any other federal law authorizes the feds to apply that money toward a congresscritter’s Exchange premiums. Today’s New York Times reports:
David M. Ermer, a lawyer who has represented insurers in the federal employee program for 30 years, said, “I do not think members of Congress and their staff can get funds for coverage in the exchanges under existing law.”
So ObamaCare essentially delivers a pay cut to members and staff in the neighborhood of $5,000 for single employees and $10,000 for families.
Even congressional Democrats who voted for ObamaCare are freaking out (and pointing fingers). Again, the New York Times:
Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, said the Senate was responsible for the provision requiring lawmakers and many aides to get insurance in the exchanges.
“We had to take the Senate version of the health care bill,” Ms. DeGette said. “This is not anything we spent time talking about here in the House.”
Another House Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “This was a stupid provision that never should have gotten into the law.”
You’d never know they had a choice, and voted for this provision anyway.
Finally, the Times notes, “The issue is politically charged because the White House and Congress are highly sensitive to any suggestion that lawmakers or their aides are getting special treatment under the health law” and, “Aides who work for Congressional committees and in leadership offices, like those of the speaker of the House and the majority and minority leaders of the two chambers, are apparently exempt — though neither Congress nor the administration has said for sure.” That creates the potential for a sneaky, backdoor way that ObamaCare supporters — say, the Senate Democrats who set budgets for congressional offices — could shield their staff from ObamaCare: shift staff from personal to committee and leadership offices.
Or, the White House could just decide to make the same contribution to their Exchange coverage, statute be damned. It wouldn’t be the first time this White House tried to protect ObamaCare by spending money that Congress never authorized.
Congressional watchdogs, be on the lookout.
As Jonathan Adler and I detail in our Health Matrix article, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA,” the Obama administration is attempting to rescue Obamacare from oblivion by literally taxing, borrowing, and spending more than $700 billion without congressional authorization. In a recent letter to the editor of the Washington Post, I explain how these illegal taxes are already hurting workers.
On July 25, chairmen of the House Ways & Means Committee, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, and two Oversight subcommittees sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew demanding information related to the illegal tax-credit rule.
The House Oversight Subcommittee on Health Care has announced it will hold a hearing this Wednesday, July 31, on the IRS’s illegal tax-credit rule titled, “Oversight of IRS’s Legal Basis for Expanding ObamaCare’s Taxes and Subsidies.” Adler will testify alongside Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Missouri physician and small business owners Charles Willey, each of whom has filed suit to block the IRS’s illegal rule.
Yes, deadliness. That was the original headline for this exclusive Washington Post interview with the Empress of ObamaCare. It’s still in the URL. All parties now swear it was a typo. We report, you decide.
In that interview, Sebelius admits they’re not going about this whole ObamaCare implementation thing the best way:
Ideally what you would do if you were building a data hub that needs this kind of information, you’d put a piece together and test that. You test it, if you will, sequentially. We have to build and test simultaneously.
We always knew that the federal government clearly cannot do this alone. We never anticipated that we would.
And still Sebelius admits she isn’t doing ObamaCare full-time.
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