Eighteen TN state senators, one fomer rep sign brief in anti-Obamacare lawsuit

Eighteen Republican Tennessee state senators, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and a former Tennessee House member signed a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court Monday in support of a lawsuit challenging the tax incentives provided for health insurance plans bought through federal health care exchanges.

Two Ohio legislators also signed the brief, prepared for the Galen Institute, a non-profit group that has been active in opposing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

An excerpt from the Galen press release:

Citing a significant number of previous decisions, the brief argues that Congress is expected to “speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance.’” Instead, the IRS illegally made “major policy decisions properly made by Congress” in ruling in May of 2012 that health insurance subsidies could be available to those who enroll through federally-created exchanges.

The Affordable Care Act explicitly says that subsidies are available only “through an Exchange established by the State.” Thirty-six states (including Tennessee) defaulted to the federally-created exchanges in 2014, making their residents ineligible for health insurance subsidies if the Supreme Court rules that the law means what it says.

Twenty-one state legislators joined the brief “based on their interest in opposing efforts by the federal government’s Executive Branch to impose policies in violation of the Affordable Care Act’s unambiguous text, under the overarching limits imposed by the Constitution.” All were in office when their states were deciding whether to create state health insurance exchanges. Their states have federally-operated exchanges.

An estimated five million Americans in these and other states would lose their subsidies if the Supreme Court rules the IRS acted illegally and the subsidies therefore are invalid. At least 85% of those enrolled in federal exchanges are receiving subsidies for their health insurance, lowering their monthly premiums by an average of 76%.

The full brief is HERE.

Tennesseans signing the brief were Sens. Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet, Mike Bell of Riceville, Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, Mark Green of Clarksville, Dolores Gresham of Somerville, Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, Jack Johnson of Franklin, Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville, Mark Norris of Collierville, Doug Overbey of Maryville, Ron Ramsey of Blountville, Steve Southerland of Morristown, John Stevens of Huntingdon, Bo Watson of Hixson and Ken Yager of Harriman along with former state Rep. Jim Gotto of Nashville.

In a story on the filing, The Tennessean has a comment from Senate Majority Leader Norris:

“For me, whether it’s the Affordable Care Act or any other federal law, the regulatory overreach of the Internal Revenue Service, like so many federal administrative agencies, epitomizes federal regulation run amok.”

…There were 151,352 Tennesseans who bought a plan via the federal exchange in 2014; roughly 121,000, or 80 percent, received a subsidy. For 2015 coverage, 87,137 Tennesseans had bought coverage as of Dec. 15, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 83 percent are eligible for a subsidy.

Norris told The Tennessean that if the Supreme Court issued a decision that reversed the availability of tax subsidies that he would not be opposed to a state-run exchange. “That is one of the open questions,” Norris said about whether a ruling in that direction would be a “death knell” for the ACA or a step toward the formation of additional state exchanges.

The question of whether the state would create an exchange probably will arise in the upcoming special legislative session that is on track to convene in early February to consider Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, the administration’s Medicare expansion alternative. The proposal includes a voucher system that will be applicable to company-sponsored plans not on an open exchange, according to a spokesman for the governor’s office.

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in King vs. Burwell on March 4.

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