In recent weeks, officials from two states have claimed that if they do not set up an ObamaCare health insurance “Exchange,” the state will lose federal Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program funds. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R), has since walked back that claim. New Hampshire Commissioner of Health and Human Services Nicholas Toumpas has not.
In a January 19 letter to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Toumpas writes:
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) mandates that states create a virtual health coverage marketplace called an Exchange. To ensure compliance with this federal mandate the law provides that having an Exchange in place by January 1, 2014, is a condition precedent to receipt of Medicaid funding commencing in 2014.
I have not heard the Obama administration or any other ObamaCare supporter claim that the law contains such a mandate. I have made inquiries in a handful of states. None of them report that the Obama administration has said that failing to create an Exchange will result in the loss of Medicaid or SCHIP funds. If what Toumpas says is true, it will certainly come as a shock to the 35 states that have not enacted legislation to create an Exchange, including many states that have flat-out refused.
But is it true? Parts of ObamaCare might seem to support Toumpas’ claim.
- Section 1311 declares that each state “shall” set up an Exchange.
- The law also imposes conditions on the receipt of federal Medicaid and SCHIP funds, and those provisions do make reference to Exchanges. Section 2101 provides that, with regard to certain children who are not eligible for SCHIP, states receiving federal SCHIP funds “shall establish procedures to ensure that the children are enrolled in a qualified health plan that…is offered through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311.”
- Section 2201 provides that as a condition of receiving federal Medicaid funds, states “shall establish procedures for” several things, including “ensuring that individuals who apply for but are determined to be ineligible for [Medicaid and SCHIP] are screened for eligibility for enrollment in qualified health plans offered through such an Exchange.” The words “such an Exchange” refer to the words “an Exchange established by the State under section 1311,” which appear a few lines before.
Thus, sections 2101 and 2201 might seem to require states to establish an Exchange so that the required “procedures” can interface with it. But there are serious problems with that interpretation.
First, the directive that states “shall” create Exchanges does not amend that part of the U.S. code where Congress imposes conditions on Medicaid and SCHIP funds—i.e., the Social Security Act, or chapter 7 of title 42. It instead appears in chapter 157, which is also where Congress explains that the consequence for failing to create an Exchange is that the federal government will create one.
Second, sections 2101 and 2201 provide, respectively, that states “shall establish procedures to” enroll certain children through a state-run Exchange, and that states “shall establish procedures for” enabling the state’s Medicaid-eligibility system to coordinate with a state-run Exchange. One need not diagram those sentences to see that the object of “shall establish” is “procedures,” not “Exchange.”
Third, ObamaCare does create these “coordination” conditions within the Social Security Act. That fact demonstrates that ObamaCare’s authors knew how to make the directive to create an Exchange an explicit condition of receiving Medicaid and SCHIP funds, if that’s what they wanted to do.
Fourth, if ObamaCare’s authors had intended to condition Medicaid and SCHIP funds on the creation of Exchanges, or if that were a defensible interpretation of the law as written, then one might expect to have heard members of Congress discussing it. One might expect the Obama administration to have informed states of this condition as part of their effort to encourage states to implement the law. I have been paying fairly close attention to this issue. I have seen no evidence of either.
Fifth, the Supreme Court has held that “if Congress desires to condition the States’ receipt of federal funds, it must do so unambiguously, enabling the States to exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation.” It is simply not credible to argue that ObamaCare unambiguously conditions Medicaid and SCHIP funds on the creation of an Exchange. The law never does so explicitly, and the language and structure of the law militate against the claim that it does so implicitly.
A more reasonable interpretation of these conditions is that states will be in compliance so long as they have the required procedures at the ready—regardless of whether those procedures are coordinating with a state-created Exchange, a federal Exchange, or no Exchange (in the event that neither level of government creates one).
I have no doubt that, had ObamaCare’s authors had any inkling that two thirds of states might balk at setting up an Exchange, they would have made it a condition of Medicaid and SCHIP participation. But they didn’t foresee the widespread resistance ObamaCare would encounter. When drafting ObamaCare and for some time afterward, they honestly thought, "The more people learn about this bill, the more they [will] like it." Thus they didn’t create that requirement.
If Toumpas is the only state or federal official who sees this mandate in the law, that’s probably because it isn’t there. Just as important, there is no evidence that the Obama administration sees or is enforcing such a requirement. If Toumpas has such evidence, he should furnish it.
Until then, New Hampshire and the other 49 states can be confident that refusing to create an Exchange will not cost them Medicaid or SCHIP funds.