Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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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