In an act of pure evil, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has joined the appeal of a frivolous lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC that seeks to screw millions of Americans out of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Halbig v. Sebelius, filed by Affordable Care Act opponents last year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to use an irrelevant legal technicality to deny tax credits for people who purchase health insurance policies in the 34 states, including Michigan, which refused to establish their own state exchanges. In these states, the federal government created the exchanges, which include the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace, which is accessed through the federal website, www.healthcare.gov.
In filing this frivolous lawsuit, the plaintiffs want to gut the law’s obvious intent by citing a minor drafting error in it to exclude millions of consumers, including those in Michigan, from affordability credits that are central to health care reform.
A section of the Affordable Care Act authorizes federal subsidies for health care coverage obtained on an “Exchange established by the State under section 1311.” This passage should have been written to include the exchanges established by the federal government on behalf of Michigan and 33 other states. Under the interpretation of Schuette and the plaintiffs, subsidies to help people purchase insurance would only be available in 16 states that established their own exchanges.
But as a matter of legislative history, Congress intended these subsidies to be available regardless of whether the state or federal government was administering the exchanges, and all sides perfectly understood the law’s intent. When legislators in Michigan and elsewhere debated whether to establish state exchanges or leave it to the federal government, no one argued that the decision to establish a federal exchange would prevent consumers from receiving these subsidies.
So far, 86 percent of Michigan residents purchasing health insurance policies at the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace have received tax credits to help them cover the costs. It is estimated that a win for the plaintiffs would cost Michigan consumers $2.5 billion.
Destroying the subsidies, which Schuette and the plaintiffs want to do, would make health insurance under the individual mandate unaffordable for millions of Americans, which in turn would destroy the law’s insurance market reforms.
Judge Paul Friedman found the plaintiffs’ arguments unpersuasive and contrary to the Affordable Care Act’s central purpose, and in January ruled in favor of the defendants.
"Plaintiffs' proposed construction in this case – that tax credits are available only for those purchasing insurance from state-run Exchanges – runs counter to this central purpose of the ACA: to provide affordable health care to virtually all Americans," said Friedman. "Such an interpretation would violate the basic rule of statutory construction that a court must interpret a statute in light of its history and purpose."
In granting summary judgment, Friedman noted that the federal exchanges, including Michigan’s, "would have no customers, and no purpose" if the plaintiffs' logic were accepted.
"In other words, even where a state does not actually establish an Exchange, the federal government can create 'an Exchange established by the State under [42 U.S.C. § 18031]' on behalf of that state," said Friedman.
“The Court finds that the plain text of the statute, the statutory structure, and the statutory purpose make clear that Congress intended to make (health insurance) premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges... And that must be the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.”
This lawsuit was frivolous from the start when government agencies generally have broad discretion to interpret ambiguities in the law, and the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that federal exchanges may provide subsidies. There was also no evidence that the law's architects sought to limit health insurance premium tax credits as claimed by the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs have appealed Friedman’s decision to the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Schuette filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs on Feb. 6. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for March 25.
As state attorney general, Schuette is supposed to be the people’s lawyer. But by joining in the Halbig case on the plaintiff side, he has shown that he only has the selfish interests of insurance companies in mind, such as hefty profits, excessively high pay for the top executives and abusive practices. By acting contrary to the public interest, Schuette has disgraced his office.
Kalamazoo attorney Mark Totten, Schuette’s Democratic opponent, called Schuette’s actions “outrageous and wrong.” We should also keep in mind that if we had Single Payer, this asinine lawsuit could have never been filed in the first place.