Tag: Supreme Court

Wisconsin Health Secretary: ‘No Such Thing as a State-Run Exchange’

Dennis Smith directed the Medicaid program for President George W. Bush and was a health care analyst at the Heritage Foundation before becoming Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) secretary of health. The following excerpts are from a [subscription only] article at WisPolitics.com:

In his first extensive interview since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling largely upheld the federal law, the Department of Health Services chief said fed deadlines are likely to change and that the lack of guidance on setting up the exchanges makes any state-run exchange “a fantasy.”

Part of the reason why Smith says Wisconsin hasn’t moved forward with a health exchange plan is because he believes the deadlines will be pushed back.

“We have no other plan that we are taking because we think the reality is the federal government cannot meet its deadlines for implementing PPACA,” Smith said. “No one knows what a federal exchange looks like. The two major components that an exchange is supposed to do, which is determine eligibility and to complete the business transaction to pay premiums to health care plans that millions of Americans are supposed to pick, nobody knows what those look like. The administration has failed to release a credible business plan where objective observers could conclude that they’re going to pull this off.

Smith also said that none of the states currently setting up exchanges would likely meet federal regulations and that there’s “no such thing as a state-run exchange.”

“They were going to be asking for the resumes for the people who sit on the board of overseeing an exchange,” Smith said. “They were micromanaging the governance structure. They didn’t have to do that, they chose to do that. But that’s slowing the process and the decision making.”

The secretary especially pointed to questions on who will be eligible for the exchanges and the appropriate level of tax credits for participants. He claimed the rules on determining accuracy of tax credit payments were too “nonchalant,” and could result in the IRS having to recover thousands of dollars because of potential inaccuracies.

“It’s not that they don’t have answers because they’re withholding it from us, it’s that they don’t have answers because they don’t have answers,” Smith said. “These are critical policy issues, critical technical issues. Again, what are you building if you don’t know who’s eligible? What are you building if you don’t know what the flow is out of the treasury to the health plan?”

…”They have a mess on their hands,” Smith said… “You have to fundamentally say, ‘No, that just isn’t working, we have to go back to the drawing board.’

“And that is not being partisan in the slightest. That is facing reality.”

And that’s from a guy who continues to support the concept of a government-created health insurance exchange.

Roberts Was Against Treating the Mandate as a Tax Before He Was For It

On March 27, during the part of the Obamacare oral argument devoted to the individual mandate, Solicitor General Verrilli said that the Court has an “obligation to construe it as an exercise of the tax power, if it can be upheld on that  basis.”  To that, Chief Justice Roberts responded quite critically, interrupting the solicitor general and asking why then didn’t Congress call it a tax.  The Chief does not seem particularly convinced on this issue, with the SG having a nonsensical answer of “there is nothing I know of that illuminates that.”

Yet, that is the exact issue he later accepted.

Here is the full exchange (from pages 49–50 of the transcript), including the preceding relevant exchange between Justice Kagan and the SG:

JUSTICE KAGAN: I suppose, though, General, one question is whether the determined efforts of Congress not to refer to this as a tax make a difference. I mean, you’re suggesting we should just look to the practical operation. We shouldn’t look at labels. And that seems right, except that here we have a case in which Congress determinedly said this is not a tax, and the question is why should that be irrelevant?

GENERAL VERRILLI: I don’t think that that’s a fair characterization of the actions of Congress here, Justice Kagan. On the—December 23rd, a point of constitutional order was called to, in fact, with respect to this law. The floor sponsor, Senator Baucus, defended it as an exercise of the taxing power. In his response to the point of order, the Senate voted 60 to 39 on that proposition.  The legislative history is replete with members of Congress explaining that this law is constitutional as an exercise of the taxing power. It was attacked as a tax by its opponents. So I don’t think this is a situation where you can say that Congress was avoiding any mention of the tax power.  It would be one thing if Congress explicitly disavowed an exercise of the tax power. But given that it hasn’t done so, it seems to me that it’s—not only is it fair to read this as an exercise of the tax power, but this Court has got an obligation to construe it as an exercise of the tax power, if it can be upheld on that basis.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Why didn’t Congress call it a tax, then?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well—

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You’re telling me they thought of it as a tax, they defended it on the tax power. Why didn’t they say it was a tax?

GENERAL VERRILLI: They might have thought, Your Honor, that calling it a penalty as they did would make it more effective in accomplishing its objective. But it is—in the Internal Revenue Code it is collected by the IRS on April 15th. I don’t think this is a situation in which you can say—

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, that’s the reason. They thought it might be more effective if they called it a penalty.

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I—you know, I don’t—there is nothing that I know of that illuminates that, but certainly…

What a difference a few weeks make.

H/t to a frequent co-author who must remain nameless due to his current occupation.

‘Health Law Critics Prepare to Battle Over Insurance Exchange Subsidies’

The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Critics of the new health care law, having lost one battle in the Supreme Court, are mounting a challenge to President Obama’s interpretation of another important provision, under which the federal government will subsidize health insurance for millions of low- and middle-income people.

Starting in 2014, the law…offers subsidies to help people pay for insurance bought through markets known as insurance exchanges.

At issue is whether the subsidies will be available in exchanges set up and run by the federal government in states that fail or refuse to establish their own exchange…

“The language of the statute is explicit,” Mr. Blumstein said. “Subsidies accrue to people who obtain coverage through state-run exchanges. The I.R.S. tries to get around that by providing subsidies for all insurance exchanges. That interpretation will almost certainly be challenged by someone.”

The most likely challenger, Mr. Blumstein said, is an employer penalized because one or more of its employees receive subsidies through a federal exchange. Employers may be subject to financial penalties if they offer no coverage or inadequate coverage and at least one of their full-time employees receives subsidies.

Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the link between subsidies and penalties was a crucial part of the law.

“Those tax credits trigger the penalties against employers,” Mr. Cannon said. If workers cannot receive subsidies in states with a federal exchange, their employers cannot be penalized, he said.

Tax credits are not subsidies, of course. But ObamaCare’s $800 billion of refundable premium-assistance tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies are three parts subsidy (i.e., government spending) and only one part tax reduction.

‘Temporary’ Takings That Cause Permanent Damage Still Require Just Compensation

This blogpost was co-authored by Trevor Burrus.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission owns and operates 23,000 acres of land as a wildlife refuge and recreational preserve; the preserve’s trees are essential to its use for these purposes. Clearwater Dam, a federal flood control project, lies 115 miles upstream. Water is released from the dam in quantities governed by a pre-approved “management plan” that considers agricultural, recreational, and other effects downstream.

Between 1993 and 2000, the federal government released more water than authorized under the plan. AGFC repeatedly objected that these excess releases flooded the preserve during its growing season, which significantly damaged and eventually decimated tree populations. In 2001, the government acknowledged the havoc its flooding had wreaked on AGFC’s land and ceased plan deviations. By then, however, the preserve and its trees were severely damaged, so AGFC sued the government, claiming damages under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause.

The district court awarded $5.8 million in lost timber and reforestation costs based on the substantiality of the government’s flooding and the foreseeability of the damage it caused. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that decision, holding that flooding can never be a taking unless that flooding is permanent. It further held that, in determining whether the government’s flooding was permanent or temporary, courts must focus on the character of the policy behind the intrusion rather the effects of the intrusion itself. A taking cannot have occurred here because each deviation from the plan constituted a “temporary” policy, the court concluded, so AGFC had no constitutional remedy.

In December, Cato joined the Pacific Legal Foundation on an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take the case, which it did. Now Cato again joins the Pacific Legal Foundation, as well as the Atlantic Legal Foundation, on a new brief urging the Court to uphold the Fifth Amendment rights of property owners whose land is destroyed by the federal government.

We argue that the length of time of the government’s physical invasion of property should not be used to determine whether a taking occurred, but rather only for calculating how much damage the taking caused. We further argue that the Federal Circuit’s focus on the “intent” of the government action—whether the flooding resulted from a “permanent or temporary policy”—is likewise irrelevant to whether a taking occurred. Instead, the inquiry should be whether the government caused permanent damage and, if so, how much. The lower court erroneously created a rule—that so long as it might be “temporary,” no government flooding can be remedied under the Fifth Amendment—that runs afoul of a constitutional provision meant to compensate property owners for government intrusions on their land.

The Supreme Court will hear the case of Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States in October or November.

Obamacare Rethink Maybe

Right before leaving town for the summer, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that “Rethink Maybe” was the pop hit of the summer, overtaking last year’s remake of “Every Breath You Take”:

Rethink Maybe

I filed a brief with the Court,
Don’t worry, it’s rather short
Constitution and not tort,
But now you’re in my way

I’d trade my soul for a wish,
Limited powers it is
Nobody expected this,
But now you’re in my way

Blue-eyed stare was holdin’,
Black-robed, balls-strikes callin’
Then you started cavin’
Where you think you’re goin’, CJ?

Hey, John Roberts,
This is crazy,
Mandates aren’t taxes,
So rethink, maybe?

It’s hard to look right,
At you CJ,
Your op makes no sense,
So rethink, maybe?

I just read you,
The ruling’s crazy,
Read Article I,
And rethink, maybe?

The other justices,
Ruled on the law,
But you played politics,
So rethink, maybe?

You thought Congress was remiss,
But changed your mind after this
You gave me the Commerce Clause,
But still, you’re in my way

I beg, and argue and plead
Had foresight, reason indeed
I didn’t know how I’d feel,
But now it’s in my way

Blue-eyed stare was holdin’,
Black-robed, balls-strikes callin’
Then you started cavin’
Where you think you’re goin’, CJ?

It’s hard to look right,
At you CJ,
Your op makes no sense,
So rethink, maybe?

Hey, John Roberts,
This is crazy,
Mandates aren’t taxes,
So rethink, maybe?

It’s hard to look right,
At you CJ,
Your op makes no sense,
So rethink, maybe?

All other justices,
Ruled on the law,
Mandates aren’t taxes,
So rethink, maybe?

When you came onto the Court
I thought you so rad
My man-crush so bad
My man-crush so, so bad

Now thanks to you I’ll pay this tax
It made me so mad
But now I’m just sad
It makes me so, so sad

It’s hard to look right,
At you CJ,
Mandates aren’t taxes,
So rethink, maybe?

I just read you,
The ruling’s crazy,
Read Article I,
And rethink, maybe?

The other justices,
Ruled on the law,
But you played politics,
So rethink, maybe?

When you came onto the Court
I thought you so rad
My man-crush so bad
My man-crush so, so bad

Now thanks to you I’ll pay this tax
It makes me so sad
And you should know that

So rethink, maybe?

Fourth Amendment Gone to the Dogs—and to Lasers?!

For all their use by law enforcement across the country, drug-sniffing dogs haven’t gotten a lot of consideration in the Supreme Court. In a pair of cases next fall, though, the Court seems likely to give them some attention. Florida v. Harris is one of the cases it has taken. Harris will examine “[w]hether an alert by a well-trained narcotics detection dog certified to detect illegal contraband is insufficient to establish probable cause for the search of a vehicle.”

This week, we filed an amicus brief in the other drug-sniffing dog case, coming out of the same state. Florida v. Jardines asks whether the Fourth Amendment would be implicated if the government brought a drug-sniffing dog to the front door of your home seeking the scent of illegality.

What the Court has done with drug-sniffing dogs so far is not very good. We homed in on the major precedent, Caballes, to illustrate the weakness of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test that originated in United States v. Katz (1967).

In Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005), this Court did not apply Katz analysis. It did not examine (or even assume) whether Roy Caballes had exhibited a subjective expectation of privacy, the first step in the Katz test. Thus, the Court could not take the second step, examining its objective reasonableness.

Instead, the Caballes Court skipped forward to a corollary of the Katz test that the Court had drawn in United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109 (1984): “Official conduct that does not ‘compromise any legitimate interest in privacy’ is not a search subject to the Fourth Amendment.” Caballes, 543 U.S. at 408 (quoting Jacobsen, 466 U.S. at 123).

This is a logical extension of the Katz test, and one that helps reveal its weakness in maintaining the Fourth Amendment’s protections consistently over time. Now, instead of examining whether searches and seizures are reasonable, courts applying the Jacobsen/Caballes corollary can uphold any activity of government agents sufficiently tailored to discovering only crime.

What kinds of activities might those include? We talked about lasers.

A DHS program that might be directed not only at persons, but also at their houses and effects, is called the “Remote Vapor Inspection System” (or RVIS). RVIS “generates laser beams at various frequencies” to be aimed at a “target vapor.” Beams “reflected and scattered back to the sensor head” reveal “spectral ‘signatures’” that can be compared with the signatures of sought-after gasses and particulates. [citations omitted] Using RVIS, government agents might remotely examine the molecular content of the air in houses and cars, quietly and routinely explore the gasses exiting houses through chimneys and air ducts, and perhaps even silently inspect any person’s exhaled breath. If RVIS technology is programmed to indicate only on substances that indicate wrongdoing, the Jacobsen/Caballes corollary extinguishes the idea that its pervasive, frequent, and secret use would be a search.

If a dog sniff only reveals illegal activity, compromising no privacy interest, it’s not a search. So using lasers to check your breath for illegal substances is not a search either. We hope, obviously, that the Court will do away with this rule, which is so attenuated from both the language and the purpose of the Fourth Amendment.

Instead of determining whether a person has “reasonable expectations of privacy”—we called that doctrine a “jumble of puzzles”—courts should examine whether a “search” has occurred by seeing if police accessed something that was hidden from view.

When a person has used physics and law to conceal something from others, the Fourth Amendment and the Court should back those privacy-protective arrangements, breaching them only when there is probable cause and a warrant (or some exception to the warrant requirement).

To hold otherwise would be to allow the government to invade privacy not just using drug-sniffing dogs but using ever more sophisticated technology.

Is the Individual Mandate a Tax?

From my 2010 paper “Obama’s Prescription for Low-Wage Workers; High Implicit Taxes, Higher Premiums”:

President Obama argues that a legal requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance is not a tax. Yet many economists, including some of President Obama’s economic advisers, consider it to be a type of tax.

Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt writes, “[Just because] the fiscal flows triggered by [the] mandate would not flow directly through the public budgets does not detract from the measure’s status of a bona fide tax.”

MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber writes, “Suppose … the government mandated that everyone buy full insurance at the average price… . This would not be a very attractive plan to careful consumers … who could view themselves as essentially being taxed in order to support this market, by paying higher premiums than they should based on their risk.”

President Obama’s National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers writes, “Essentially, mandated benefits are like public programs financed by benefit taxes.”

Sherry Glied, President Obama’s appointee to assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, writes, “The individual mandate … is in many respects analogous to a tax. It requires people to make payments for something whether they want it or not.”

When the Clinton administration proposed an individual mandate in 1993, the CBO went so far as to treat the mandatory premiums that Americans would pay as federal revenues and include them in the federal budget. So far, the CBO has not done the same for the mandates in the House and Senate bills. (As Reinhardt suggests, that does not imply that those mandates are not a tax.)

Each bill would also impose penalties on individuals (and employers) who do not comply with the health-insurance mandates. Those penalties would be paid to the Internal Revenue Service along with one’s income taxes.