I guess I’ll have to tout this myself. Last week, the Hill newspaper put me on its list of “the 100 people you can’t ignore this fall if you’re wondering how events in Congress and the White House will play out.” Here’s the write-up:
Michael Cannon Director of health policy studies at the Cato InstituteThink the Supreme Court has settled the question of ObamaCare’s legality? Not if Cannon has anything to say about it. Cannon is a tireless advocate for the argument that the IRS has illegally implemented the healthcare law’s insurance subsidies, which will help low-income households cover the cost of their premiums.His argument is that healthcare law, as written, does not allow for the subsidies to be used in healthcare marketplaces that are set up by the federal government.He helped the state of Oklahoma file a lawsuit against the subsidies, and a group of small businesses filed a separate suit on the same grounds, in case Cannon’s runs into procedural roadblocks.If the lawsuits Cannon has spearheaded are successful, they could have a devastating impact on the healthcare law. A final decision in favor would stop the flow of tax subsidies to people in more than half of the states, making ObamaCare far less attractive to consumers and stripping away much of the law’s promise of affordability.
Corrections and amplifications. The argument is as much Jonathan Adler’s as mine; we develop it together in this law-journal article. The argument is not that the IRS is illegally implementing otherwise lawful subsidies; it is that the IRS is trying to dispense some $700 billion in illegal subsidies that Congress expressly did not authorize, and impose illegal taxes on millions of employers and individual Americans starting in 2014; that the Obama administration is attempting to tax, borrow, and spend nearly $1 trillion without congressional authorization. Finally, I am neither a party nor counsel nor financier to either Pruitt v. Sebelius or Halbig v. Sebelius.
On Sunday, The Washington Post published my letter to the editor:
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.
Many have speculated that the Obama administration isn’t prepared to roll out ObamaCare. Some have speculated that even if the administration were prepared, the rollout would still be chaotic with job losses, rate shock, employer dumping, and the like.
Ohio Reps. Ron Young (R-Leroy Twp.) and Andy Thompson (R-Marietta), and Missouri Sen. John Lamping (R-St. Louis County), have introduced legislation—we call it the Health Care Freedom Act 2.0—that would suspend the licenses of insurance carriers who accept federal subsidies through one of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) health insurance Exchanges. At first glance, that might seem to conflict with or otherwise be preempted by the PPACA. Neither is the case. Instead, the HCFA 2.0 would require the IRS to implement the PPACA as Congress intended.
Here’s why. Under the PPACA, if an employer doesn’t purchase a government-prescribed level of health benefits, some of its workers may become eligible to purchase subsidized coverage through a health insurance “exchange.” When the IRS issues the subsidy to an insurance company on behalf of one of those workers, that payment triggers penalties against the employer. Firms with 100 employees could face penalties as high as $140,000.
Congress authorized those subsides, and therefore those penalties, only in states that establish a health insurance Exchange. If a state defers that task to the federal government, as 33 states including Missouri and Ohio have done, the PPACA clearly provides that there can be no subsidies and therefore no penalties against employers. The IRS has nevertheless announced it will implement those subsidies and penalties in the 33 states that have refused to establish Exchanges. Applying those measures in non-establishing states violates the clear language of the PPACA and congressional intent. See Jonathan H. Adler and Michael F. Cannon, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA,” Health Matrix: Journal of Law-Medicine 23 (2013): 119-195.
Whether legal or illegal, those penalties also violate the freedoms protected by the Health Care Freedom Amendment to Ohio’s Constitution, and Missouri’s original Health Care Freedom Act, which voters in each state ratified by overwhelming majorities. The Ohio (HB 91) and Missouri (SB 473) bills would protect employers and workers from those penalties, and thereby uphold the freedoms enshrined in Missouri statute and Ohio’s Constitution, by suspending the licenses of insurance carriers that accept those subsidies.
The question arises whether the PPACA would preempt such a law. It does not. The HCFA 2.0 neither conflicts with federal law, nor attempts to nullify federal law, nor is preempted by federal law.
The HCFA 2.0 concerns a field of law—insurance licensure—that has traditionally been a province of the states under their police powers. In preemption cases, courts “start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.” Wyeth v. Levine, 129 S. Ct. 1187, 1194-95 (2009). Courts then must determine whether the state law in question is nevertheless trumped by express or implied federal preemption.