Justia U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) requires covered employers to provide women with “preventive care and screenings” without cost-sharing requirements and relies on Preventive Care Guidelines “supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration” (HRSA) to define “preventive care and screenings,” 42 U.S.C. 300gg–13(a)(4). Those Guidelines mandate that health plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods. When the Federal Departments incorporated the Guidelines, they gave HRSA the discretion to exempt religious employers from providing contraceptive coverage. Later, the Departments promulgated a rule accommodating qualifying religious organizations, allowing them to opt out of coverage by self-certifying that they met certain criteria to their health insurance issuer, which would then exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without any cost-sharing requirements. In its 2014 “Hobby Lobby” decision, the Supreme Court held that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the free exercise of closely-held corporations with sincerely held religious objections. In a later decision, the Court remanded challenges to the self-certification accommodation so that the parties could develop an approach that would accommodate employers’ concerns while providing women full and equal coverage. The Departments then promulgated interim final rules. One significantly expanded the church exemption to include an employer that objects, based on its sincerely held religious beliefs, to coverage or payments for contraceptive services. Another created an exemption for employers with sincerely held moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage. The Third Circuit affirmed a preliminary nationwide injunction against the implementation of the rules. The Supreme Court reversed. The Departments had the authority under the ACA to promulgate the exemptions. Section 300gg–13(a)(4) states that group health plans must provide preventive care and screenings “as provided for” in comprehensive guidelines, granting HRSA sweeping authority to define that preventive care and to create exemptions from its Guidelines. Concerns that the exemptions thwart Congress’ intent by making it significantly harder for women to obtain seamless access to contraception without cost-sharing cannot justify supplanting that plain meaning. “It is clear ... that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The rules promulgating the exemptions are free from procedural defects. View "Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Louisiana’s Act 620 required any doctor who performs abortions to hold “active admitting privileges at a hospital . . . located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.” The district court provisionally prohibited the Act's enforcement, directing the doctors to seek privileges. Months later, the court declared Act 620 unconstitutional. On remand following the Supreme Court’s 2016 “Whole Woman’s Health” decision, the court entered a permanent injunction, finding that the law offers no significant health benefit; that conditions on admitting privileges common to Louisiana hospitals make it impossible for abortion providers to obtain privileges for reasons unrelated to asserted interests in promoting women’s health and safety; and that this inability places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion. The Fifth Circuit reversed, disagreeing with those factual findings. The Supreme Court reversed. The district court’s factual findings, made after a six-day bench trial, and precedent, particularly Whole Woman’s Health, establish that Act 620 is unconstitutional as an unnecessary health regulation that has the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions. The findings show that enforcing the Act would drastically reduce the number and geographic distribution of abortion providers, making it impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in Louisiana and imposing substantial obstacles on those who could. The evidence supporting those findings is stronger than in Whole Woman’s Health and showed that opposition to abortion played a role in some hospitals’ decisions to deny the plaintiff-physicians admitting privileges. Delays in obtaining an abortion might increase the risk that a woman will experience complications and may make it impossible for her to choose non-invasive medication abortion. The burdens of increased travel to distant clinics would fall disproportionately on poor women. View "June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo" on Justia Law

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act established online exchanges where insurers could sell their healthcare plans. The now-expired “Risk Corridors” program aimed to limit the plans’ profits and losses during the first three years (2014-2016). Under 31 U.S.C. 1342, eligible profitable plans “shall pay” the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, while the Secretary “shall pay” eligible unprofitable plans. The Act neither appropriated funds nor limited the amounts that the government might pay. There was no requirement that the program be budget-neutral. The total deficit exceeded $12 billion. At the end of each year, the appropriations bills for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services included a rider preventing the Centers from using the funds for Risk Corridors payments. The Federal Circuit rejected Tucker Act claims for damages by health-insurance companies that claimed losses under the program. The Supreme Court reversed. The Risk Corridors statute created an obligation to pay insurers the full amount set out in section 1342’s formula. The government may incur an obligation directly through statutory language, without details about how the obligation must be satisfied. The Court noted the mandatory term “shall,” and adjacent provisions, which differentiate between when the Secretary “shall” act and when she “may” exercise discretion. Congress did not impliedly repeal the obligation through its appropriations riders. which do not indicate “any other purpose than the disbursement of a sum of money for the particular fiscal years.” The Risk Corridors statute is fairly interpreted as mandating compensation for damages, and neither Tucker Act exception applies. Nor does the APA bar a Tucker Act suit. The insurers seek specific sums already calculated, past due, and designed to compensate for completed labors. Because the Risk Corridors program expired this litigation presents no special concern about managing a complex ongoing relationship. View "Maine Community Health Options v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Medicare program offers additional payments to institutions that serve a “disproportionate number” of low-income patients, 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d)(5)(F)(i)(I), calculated using the hospital’s “Medicare fraction.” The fraction’s denominator is the time the hospital spent caring for patients entitled to Medicare Part A benefits; the numerator is the time the hospital spent caring for Part-A-entitled patients who were also entitled to income support payments under the Social Security Act. Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) was created in 1997. Part C, beneficiaries may choose to have the government pay their private insurance premiums rather than pay for their hospital care directly. Part C enrollees tend to be wealthier than Part A enrollees, so counting them makes the fraction smaller and reduces hospitals’ payments. In 2014, the Medicare website indicated that fractions for fiscal year 2012 included Part C patients. Hospitals sued, claiming violation the Medicare Act’s requirement to provide public notice and a 60-day comment period for any “rule, requirement, or other statement of policy . . . that establishes or changes a substantive legal standard governing . . . the payment for services.” The Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit in agreeing with the hospitals. The government has not identified a lawful excuse for neglecting its statutory notice-and-comment obligations. The 2014 announcement established or changed a “substantive legal standard” not an interpretive legal standard. The Medicare Act and the Administrative Procedures Act do not use the word “substantive” in the same way. The Medicare Act contemplates that “statements of policy” can establish or change a “substantive legal standard." Had Congress wanted to follow the APA in the Medicare Act and exempt interpretive rules and policy statements from notice and comment, it could have cross-referenced the APA exemption, 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(A). View "Azar v. Allina Health Services" on Justia Law

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The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act) regulates pro-life centers that offer pregnancy-related services. Licensed clinics must notify women that California provides free or low-cost services, including abortions, and give them a phone number. The stated purpose is to ensure that state residents know their rights and what services are available. Unlicensed clinics must notify women that California has not licensed the clinics to provide medical services. Its stated purpose is to ensure that pregnant women know when they are receiving care from licensed professionals. In a case under the First Amendment, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the licensed notice requirement likely violates the First Amendment. Content-based laws “are presumptively unconstitutional" and may be justified only if narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests. The notice is a content-based regulation, requiring a particular message. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals. The notice is not limited to “purely factual and uncontroversial information about" services. Nor is it a regulation of professional conduct that incidentally burdens speech; it applies to all interactions between a covered facility and its clients, regardless of whether a medical procedure is ever sought. Other facilities, including general clinics providing the same services, are not subject to the requirement. If states could choose the protection that speech receives simply by requiring a license, they would have a powerful tool to impose “invidious discrimination of disfavored subjects.” Assuming that California’s interest in providing low-income women with information about state-sponsored service is substantial, the licensed notice is not sufficiently drawn to promote it but is “wildly underinclusive,” applying only to clinics that have a “primary purpose” of “providing family planning or pregnancy-related services” while excluding other types clinics that also serve low-income women and could educate them about the state’s services. California could also inform the women about services “without burdening a speaker with unwanted speech,” most obviously through a public-information campaign. The unlicensed notice also unduly burdens protected speech. A disclosure requirement cannot be “unjustified or unduly burdensome,” must remedy a harm that is “potentially real not purely hypothetical,” and can extend “no broader than reasonably necessary.” California has not demonstrated any justification that is more than “purely hypothetical.” View "National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Employers must cover certain contraceptives as part of their health plans unless the employer submits a form to their insurer or to the federal government, stating that they object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. The plaintiff-employers alleged that submitting this notice substantially burdened the exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993,, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb. In supplemental briefing, the parties acknowledged that contraceptive coverage could be provided to employees, through insurance companies, without such notice. Plaintiffs “need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception,” and employees could receive cost-free contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company, seamlessly, with the rest of their coverage. Based on these stipulations, the Supreme Court vacated the judgments below and remanded to determine an approach that will accommodate the employers’ religious exercise while ensuring that women covered by their health plans “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” The Court did not decide whether the employers’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest. View "Zubik v. Burwell" on Justia Law

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Vermont law requires certain entities, including health insurers, to report payments and other information relating to health care claims and services for compilation in a state health care database. Liberty Mutual’s health plan, which provides benefits in all 50 states, is an “employee welfare benefit plan” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); its third-party administrator, Blue Cross, is subject to the statute. Concerned that the disclosure of confidential information might violate its fiduciary duties, the Plan instructed Blue Cross not to comply and sought a declaration that ERISA preempts application of Vermont’s statute. The Second Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of the state. The Supreme Court affirmed. ERISA expressly preempts “any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan,” 29 U.S.C. 1144(a) and, therefore, preempts a state law that has an impermissible “connection with” ERISA plans. ERISA mandates certain oversight systems and other standard procedures; Vermont’s law also governs plan reporting, disclosure, and recordkeeping. Preemption is necessary to prevent multiple jurisdictions from imposing differing, or even parallel, regulations, creating wasteful administrative costs and threatening to subject plans to wide-ranging liability. ERISA’s uniform rule design makes clear that the Secretary of Labor, not the states, decides whether to exempt plans from ERISA reporting requirements or to require ERISA plans to report data such as sought by Vermont. View "Gobeille v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C 18001) includes “guaranteed issue” and “community rating” requirements, which bar insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on health; requires individuals to maintain health insurance coverage or make a payment to the IRS, unless the cost of buying insurance would exceed eight percent of that individual’s income; and seeks to make insurance more affordable by giving refundable tax credits to individuals with household incomes between 100 per cent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line. The Act requires creation of an “Exchange” in each state— a marketplace to compare and purchase insurance plans; the federal government will establish “such Exchange” if the state does not. The Act provides that tax credits “shall be allowed” for any “applicable taxpayer,” only if the taxpayer has enrolled in an insurance plan through “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U.S.C. 18031],” An IRS regulation interprets that language as making credits available regardless of whether the exchange is established by a state or the federal government. Plaintiffs live in Virginia, which has a federal exchange. They argued Virginia’s Exchange does not qualify as “an Exchange established by the State,” so they should not receive any tax credits. That would make the cost of buying insurance more than eight percent of their income, exempting them from the coverage requirement. The district court dismissed their suit. The Fourth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Tax credits are available to individuals in states that have a federal exchange. Given that the text is ambiguous, the Court looked to the broader structure of the Act and concluded that plaintiffs’ interpretation would destabilize the individual insurance market in any state with a federal exchange. It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in that manner. Congress made the guaranteed issue and community rating requirements applicable in every state, but those requirements only work when combined with the coverage requirement and tax credits. View "King v. Burwell" on Justia Law

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Providers of “habilitation services” under Idaho’s Medicaid plan are reimbursed by the state Department of Health and Welfare. Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act requires Idaho’s plan to “assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care” while “safeguard[ing] against unnecessary utilization of . . . care and services,” 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(30)(A). Providers of habilitation services claimed that Idaho reimbursed them at rates lower than section 30(A) permits. The district court entered summary judgment for the providers. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Supremacy Clause gave the providers an implied right of action, under which they could seek an injunction requiring compliance. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that there is no private right of action. The Supremacy Clause instructs courts to give federal law priority when state and federal law clash, but it is not the source of any federal rights and does not create a cause of action. The suit cannot proceed in equity. The power of federal courts of equity to enjoin unlawful executive action is subject to express and implied statutory limitations. The express provision of a single remedy for a state’s failure to comply with Medicaid’s requirements, the withholding of Medicaid funds by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, 42 U.S.C. 1396c, and the complexity associated with enforcing section 30(A) combine to establish Congress’s “intent to foreclose” equitable relief. View "Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Ctr., Inc." on Justia Law

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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations implementing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) require that employers’ group health plans furnish preventive care and screenings for women without cost sharing requirements, 42 U.S.C. 300gg–13(a)(4). Nonexempt employers must provide coverage for 20 FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including four that may have the effect of preventing a fertilized egg from developing. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from the contraceptive mandate. HHS has effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations; an insurer must exclude contraceptive coverage from such an employer’s plan and provide participants with separate payments for contraceptive services. Closely held for-profit corporations sought an injunction under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even by a rule of general applicability unless it demonstrates that imposing the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb–1(a), (b). As amended by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), RFRA covers “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” The Third Circuit held that a for-profit corporation could not “engage in religious exercise” under RFRA and that the mandate imposed no requirements on corporate owners in their personal capacity. The Tenth Circuit held that the businesses are “persons” under RFRA; that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened their religious exercise; and that HHS had not demonstrated that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the businesses, holding that RFRA applies to regulations that govern the activities of closely held for-profit corporations. The Court declined to “leave merchants with a difficult choice” of giving up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgoing the benefits of operating as corporations. Nothing in RFRA suggests intent to depart from the Dictionary Act definition of “person,” which includes corporations, 1 U.S.C.1; no definition of “person” includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but excludes for-profit corporations. “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.” The Court rejected arguments based on the difficulty of ascertaining the “beliefs” of large, publicly traded corporations and that the mandate itself requires only insurance coverage. If the plaintiff companies refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, they face severe economic consequences; the government failed to show that the contraceptive mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to the four challenged contraceptive methods. The government could assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives or could extend the accommodation already established for religious nonprofit organizations. The Court noted that its decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate, not all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions. View "Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc." on Justia Law