House Republicans Sue Obama Over Delay in Health Insurance Mandate

By and | November 24, 2014

U.S. House Republicans sued President Barack Obama’s administration over implementation of the 2010 healthcare law, saying the president exceeded his authority by delaying part of the program.

The complaint filed yesterday in Washington federal court said the president unlawfully postponed one of the Affordable Care Act’s central requirements — that most employers provide insurance to workers — without a vote of Congress. The House also claimed the administration is improperly making payments to insurance companies.

“Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and rewrite federal law on his own,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well.”

Obama in July dismissed plans for the lawsuit as a “political stunt.”

President’s Delay of Employers’ Healthcare Mandate on ‘Shaky’ Legal Ground: Experts

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters yesterday, “At a time when the American people want Washington focused on jobs and the economy, the House Republicans choose to sue us.”

House Republicans filed the lawsuit a day after Obama, in a nationally televised speech, announced action to ease immigration restrictions and allow some undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S.

Republican leaders in Congress said the executive action was beyond the president’s power, and some state officials have threatened to sue.

Party-Line Vote

Obamacare, intended to provide coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, has been attacked by Republicans since it was passed on a party-line vote in 2010.

The Supreme Court upheld much of Obamacare by a single vote in 2012. Earlier this month, the court agreed to hear a challenge to tax credits that have helped more than 4 million people afford health insurance. A decision will come by June.

Michele Swers, an associate government professor at Georgetown University in Washington, said House Republicans probably decided to sue the president as a sort of middle ground to appease party members who wanted to impeach Obama.

With Republicans poised to control both chambers of Congress in January, they’re more likely to spurn Obama’s goals through legislative tactics, such as refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless certain conditions are met, she said.

“Lawsuits take a very long time and Republicans don’t like trial lawyers that much, so I don’t know that this will be what they always want to do,” Swers said in a phone interview.

Legal Standing

John Thomas, a professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law in North Haven, Connecticut, who specializes in health law, said members of Congress don’t have legal standing “to file lawsuits like this one, which argues an abstract point of law, the president’s constitutional authority to issue executive orders.”

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which was named as a defendant, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Treasury Department spokeswoman Erin Donar referred requests for comment to the White House.

The lawsuit challenges Obama’s delay in the so-called employer insurance mandate. Companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable insurance or pay a fine of as much as $3,000 per employee.

Obama said in 2013 that employers wouldn’t have to comply with the requirement until 2015. This year Obama further delayed the rule until 2016 for companies with fewer than 100 workers. Larger companies must cover 70 percent of their workforce starting in 2015.

Starting Date

The healthcare law allows the administration to set the starting date for an information reporting rule needed to enforce the mandate, and businesses said they weren’t prepared for the paperwork.

The lawsuit also claimed the administration is using funds from a Treasury Department account, authorized for other purposes, to pay insurance companies as part of a cost-sharing program.

The U.S. is expected to pay insurers about $178 billion through 2024 for the subsidies, which reduce co-payments, co- insurance and other cost-sharing required for low-income people in the plans.

Congress has never appropriated funds for that program, according to the complaint.

“If this lawsuit were successful on this cost-sharing point, no low-income Americans would lose their health care because insurance companies would still be required to provide coverage,” according to Boehner’s statement.

Public Funds

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow the president to enact or amend laws without a vote of Congress, and it bans the use of public funds that haven’t been appropriated by Congress, said the lawsuit filed by Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley on behalf of House Republicans.

“Not only is there no license for the administration to ‘go it alone’ in our system, but such unilateral action is directly barred” by the Constitution, Turley wrote in the complaint.

House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or delay all or part of the health care law.

In June, Boehner had said the House would sue Obama over what he called a pattern of ignoring parts of federal laws the president didn’t like. The speaker cited health care, energy, foreign policy and education waivers that he said were “straining the boundaries” of Obama’s constitutional oath.

A month later the speaker said the lawsuit would focus on the delay in implementing the employer health insurance mandate. Yesterday’s complaint added another element: the claim regarding misuse of funds for the cost-sharing program.

The case is U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell, 14- cv-01967, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

-With assistance from Derek Wallbank and Alex Wayne in Washington.


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