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The White House and Congress filed a motion Monday to delay a court hearing on a vital funding element of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law also known as Obamacare.
The two sides asked for a 90-day delay on an appeal in the lawsuit known as House v. Price, a move first reported by The Washington Examiner and Politico. The lawsuit centers on the executive branch’s funding of so-called cost-sharing-reduction payments.
The payments help to offset costs incurred by insurers to provide low-income Americans with affordable healthcare coverage. Without them, health-policy experts say, premiums for the 2018 plan year would skyrocket above current projections, and insurers would most likely ditch many of Obamacare’s individual insurance exchanges.
In 2015, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives sued the Obama administration, arguing that the payments had not been appropriated by Congress and were therefore illegal. A lower court ruled in the House’s favor in 2016, but the Obama administration appealed the ruling.
According to the motion, legislators and the administration are still working on ways to avoid a legal ruling on the case.
“The parties continue to discuss measures that would obviate the need for judicial determination of this appeal, including potential legislative action,” the motion said.
Put another way, the idea of Congress setting aside money for the CSRs – making the ruling moot – is still on the table and thus a delay in a formal ruling was needed.
The move is another in a series of delays by the Trump administration as it decides whether to continue the payments. According to reports last Friday, President Donald Trump told advisers he was in favor of ending the payments and dropping the case. Many other White House officials are wary of that idea, and a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority of Americans would place most blame for healthcare problems – such as rising premiums – on Trump.
Additionally, on Thursday, 15 states and Washington, DC, filed a motion to intervene in the case to continue the appeal even if the Trump administration decided to drop the fight.
For the moment, the delay provides some relief for insurers concerned about the CSR payments, but the lawsuit continues to sow uncertainty in the market that some experts say could cause costs to rise even more rapidly.
“A delay in the court case over ACA cost-sharing payments avoids an immediate crisis, but continues uncertainty for insurers,” tweeted Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, following the announcement.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the decision to continue the funding showed the administration knew that continuing the payments was the right thing to do. He criticized the uncertainty from Trump on their future.
“Unfortunately, by kicking the can down the road once again, the administration is continuing to sow uncertainty in the markets that will hurt millions of Americans,” Schumer said in a statement. “Instead of hemming and hawing, they ought to step up to the plate and say once and for all that they will make these payments permanently, which help millions of Americans pay less for their healthcare.”
While the delay will move the next update for the case to mid-August, the deadline for insurers to submit their 2018 plans for Obamacare exchanges in most states is June 21.