The End … of Act II
The hero has disappeared in a cloud of suspicion and is presumed dead, so much so that supposed friends are found to be celebrating his passing. This is just as it should be at the end of Act II. Remember when Republicans rejoiced over the apparent abandonment of H.R. 3200 in October 2009? It furnished the foundation for H.R. 3590, which became Public Law 111-148 (one of the two statutes that comprise the ACA) in March 2010. Capitol Hill is short on many things, but there are plenty of plot devices available to move this story forward before the elections in November 2018. Passing the 2015 partial repeal bill again soon probably is a long shot. But ACA subsidies may seem less sacrosanct after ACA taxes really begin to bite in early 2018, and ACA architects may rue their decision to give the HHS Secretary such wide discretion to grant § 1332 waivers.
When lawyers talk about “waivers,” we normally have in mind contracts to surrender certain legal rights in exchange for something else deemed more desirable. Section 1332 waivers are something entirely different. Codified as 42 U.S.C. § 18052, this ACA text empowers the Secretary to approve state plans to alter, and perhaps dispense with, these ACA provisions, for up to five years:
- ACA § 1301-1304 (including “essential health benefits” and “qualified health plan” definitions);
- ACA § 1311-1313 (state-operated ACA Exchanges);
- ACA § 1402 (cost-sharing subsidies); and
- Code § § 36B (premium subsidies), 4980H (employer mandate) and 5000A (individual mandate).
The Secretary may grant a state’s waiver request only after finding that it would achieve at least equivalent coverage and cost-sharing protections without increasing the federal deficit. But the ACA also required the former Administration to do things that it didn’t do, and to enforce things it didn’t enforce. Employer mandate taxes were to accrue beginning in 2014. There was no “transition relief.” The ACA killed so-called “grandmothered plans” outright. Those and many other politically problematic dictates were delayed, ignored or amended administratively, sometimes very informally. We won’t be surprised if this Administration uses § 1332 waivers to allow states to “fix” perceived ACA problems that can’t or won’t be fixed by Congress.
Of course, facile findings made to facilitate waivers would provoke years of litigation ending with Supreme Court pronouncements… after November 2018 …maybe after November 2020. So maybe we should discount that possibility. [Insert your preferred emoji here.]