Reductions in Reimbursements to Hospitals and Other Reductions in Medicare Expenditures
The Affordable Care Act reduces payments by the Federal Government to hospitals by more than $200 billion over 10 years. See 42 U. S. C. §1395ww(b)(3)(B)(xi)–(xii) (2006 ed., Supp. IV); §1395ww(q); §1395ww(r); §1396r–4(f)(7).
The concept is straightforward: Near-universal coverage will reduce uncompensated care, which will increase hospitals’ revenues, which will offset the government’s reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals. Responsibility will be shared, as burdens and benefits balance each other. This is typical of the whole dynamic of the Act.
Invalidating the key mechanisms for expanding insurance coverage, such as community rating and the Medicaid Expansion, without invalidating the reductions in Medicare and Medicaid, distorts the ACA’s design of “shared responsibility.” Some hospitals may be forced to raise the cost of care in order to offset the reductions in reimbursements, which could raise the cost of insurance premiums, in contravention of the Act’s goal of “lower[ing] health insurance premiums.” 42 U. S. C. §18091(2)(F) (2006 ed., Supp. IV). See also §18091(2)(I) (goal of “lower[ing] health insurance premiums”); §18091(2)(J) (same). Other hospitals, particularly safety-net hospitals that serve a large number of uninsured patients, may be forced to shut down. Cf. National Assn. of Public Hospitals, 2009 Annual Survey: Safety Net Hospitals and Health Systems Fulfill Mission in Uncertain Times 5–6 (Feb. 2011). Like the effect of preserving the insurance regulations and taxes, the precise degree of risk to hospitals is unknowable. It is not the proper role of the Court, by severing part of a statute and allowing the rest to stand, to impose unknowable risks that Congress could neither measure nor predict. And Congress could not have intended that result in any event.
There is a second, independent reason why the reductions in reimbursements to hospitals and the ACA’s other Medicare cuts must be invalidated. The ACA’s $455 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings offset the $434 billion cost of the Medicaid Expansion. See CBO Estimate, Table 2 (Mar. 20, 2010). The reductions allowed Congress to find that the ACA “will reduce the Federal deficit between 2010 and 2019” and “will continue to reduce budget deficits after 2019.” ACA §§1563(a)(1), (2), 124 Stat. 270.
That finding was critical to the ACA. The Act’s “shared responsibility” concept extends to the federal budget. Congress chose to offset new federal expenditures with budget cuts and tax increases. That is why the United States has explained in the course of this litigation that “[w]hen Congress passed the ACA, it was careful to ensure that any increased spending, including on Medicaid, was offset by other revenue-raising and cost-saving provisions.” Memorandum in Support of Government’s Motion for Summary Judgment in No. 3–10–cv–91, p. 41.
If the Medicare and Medicaid reductions would no longer be needed to offset the costs of the Medicaid Expansion, the reductions would no longer operate in the manner Congress intended. They would lose their justification and foundation. In addition, to preserve them would be “to eliminate a significant quid pro quo of the legislative compromise” and create a statute Congress did not enact. Legal Services Corporation v. Velazquez, 531 U. S. 533, 561 (2001) (SCALIA, J., dissenting). It is no secret that cutting Medicare is unpopular; and it is most improbable Congress would have done so without at least the assurance that it would render the ACA deficit-neutral. See ACA §§1563(a)(1), (2), 124 Stat. 270.
Health Insurance Exchanges and Their Federal Subsidies
The ACA requires each State to establish a healthinsurance “exchange.” Each exchange is a one-stop marketplace for individuals and small businesses to compare community-rated health insurance and purchase the policy of their choice. The exchanges cannot operate in the manner Congress intended if the Individual Mandate, Medicaid Expansion, and insurance regulations cannot remain in force.
The Act’s design is to allocate billions of federal dollars to subsidize individuals’ purchases on the exchanges. Individuals with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty level receive tax credits to offset the cost of insurance to the individual purchaser. 26 U. S. C. §36B (2006 ed., Supp. IV); 42 U. S. C. §18071 (2006 ed., Supp.IV). By 2019, 20 million of the 24 million people who will obtain insurance through an exchange are expected to receive an average federal subsidy of $6,460 per person. See CBO, Analysis of the Major Health Care Legislation Enacted in March 2010, pp. 18–19 (Mar. 30, 2011). Without the community-rating insurance regulation, however, the average federal subsidy could be much higher; for community rating greatly lowers the enormous premiums unhealthy individuals would otherwise pay. Federal subsidies would make up much of the difference.
The result would be an unintended boon to insurance companies, an unintended harm to the federal fisc, and a corresponding breakdown of the “shared responsibility” between the industry and the federal budget that Congress intended. Thus, the federal subsidies must be invalidated.
In the absence of federal subsidies to purchasers, insurance companies will have little incentive to sell insurance on the exchanges. Under the ACA’s scheme, few, if any, individuals would want to buy individual insurance policies outside of an exchange, because federal subsidies would be unavailable outside of an exchange. Difficulty in attracting individuals outside of the exchange would in turn motivate insurers to enter exchanges, despite the exchanges’ onerous regulations. See 42 U. S. C. §18031. That system of incentives collapses if the federal subsidies are invalidated. Without the federal subsidies, individuals would lose the main incentive to purchase insurance inside the exchanges, and some insurers may be unwilling to offer insurance inside of exchanges. With fewer buyers and even fewer sellers, the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.
There is a second reason why, if community rating is invalidated by the Mandate and Medicaid Expansion’s invalidity, exchanges cannot be implemented in a manner consistent with the Act’s design. A key purpose of an exchange is to provide a marketplace of insurance options where prices are standardized regardless of the buyer’s pre-existing conditions. See ibid. An individual who shops for insurance through an exchange will evaluate different insurance products. The products will offer different benefits and prices. Congress designed the exchanges so the shopper can compare benefits and prices. But the comparison cannot be made in the way Congress designed if the prices depend on the shopper’s pre-existing health conditions. The prices would vary from person to person. So without community rating—which prohibits insurers from basing the price of insurance on pre-existing conditions—the exchanges cannot operate in the manner Congress intended.
The employer responsibility assessment provides an incentive for employers with at least 50 employees to provide their employees with health insurance options that meet minimum criteria. See 26 U. S. C. §4980H (2006 ed., Supp. IV). Unlike the Individual Mandate, the employer-responsibility assessment does not require employers to provide an insurance option. Instead, it requires them to make a payment to the Federal Government if they do not offer insurance to employees and if insurance is bought on an exchange by an employee who qualifies for the exchange’s federal subsidies. See ibid.
For two reasons, the employer-responsibility assessment must be invalidated. First, the ACA makes a direct link between the employer-responsibility assessment and the exchanges. The financial assessment against employers occurs only under certain conditions. One of them is the purchase of insurance by an employee on an exchange. With no exchanges, there are no purchases on the exchanges; and with no purchases on the exchanges, there is nothing to trigger the employer-responsibility assessment. Second, after the invalidation of burdens on individuals (the Individual Mandate), insurers (the insurance regulations and taxes), States (the Medicaid Expansion), the Federal Government (the federal subsidies for exchanges and for the Medicaid Expansion), and hospitals (the reductions in reimbursements), the preservation of the employer responsibility assessment would upset the ACA’s design of “shared responsibility.” It would leave employers as the only parties bearing any significant responsibility. That was not the congressional intent.
The Act’s Minor Provisions
The next question is whether the invalidation of the ACA’s major provisions requires the Court to invalidate the ACA’s other provisions. It does.
The ACA is over 900 pages long. Its regulations include requirements ranging from a break time and secluded place at work for nursing mothers, see 29 U. S. C. §207(r)(1) (2006 ed., Supp. IV), to displays of nutritional content at chain restaurants, see 21 U. S. C. §343(q)(5)(H). The Act raises billions of dollars in taxes and fees, including exactions imposed on high-income taxpayers, see ACA §§9015, 10906; HCERA §1402, medical devices, see 26 U. S. C. §4191 (2006 ed., Supp. IV), and tanning booths, see §5000B. It spends government money on, among other things, the study of how to spend less government money. 42 U. S. C. §1315a. And it includes a number of provisions that provide benefits to the State of a particular legislator. For example, §10323, 124 Stat. 954, extends Medicare coverage to individuals exposed to asbestos from a mine in Libby, Montana. Another provision, §2006, id., at 284, increases Medicaid payments only in Louisiana.
Such provisions validate the Senate Majority Leader’s statement, “‘I don’t know if there is a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them. . . . [And] if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them. That’s what this legislation is all about: It’s the art of compromise.’ ” Pear, In Health Bill for Everyone, Provisions for a Few, N. Y. Times, Jan. 4, 2010, p. A10 (quoting Sen. Reid). Often, a minor provision will be the price paid for support of a major provision. So, if the major provision were unconstitutional, Congress would not have passed the minor one.
Without the ACA’s major provisions, many of these minor provisions will not operate in the manner Congress intended. For example, the tax increases are “Revenue Offset Provisions” designed to help offset the cost to the Federal Government of programs like the Medicaid Expansion and the exchanges’ federal subsidies. See Title IX, Subtitle A—Revenue Offset Provisions, 124 Stat. 847. With the Medicaid Expansion and the exchanges invalidated, the tax increases no longer operate to offset costs, and they no longer serve the purpose in the Act’s scheme of “shared responsibility” that Congress intended.
Some provisions, such as requiring chain restaurants to display nutritional content, appear likely to operate as Congress intended, but they fail the second test for severability. There is no reason to believe that Congress would have enacted them independently. The Court has not previously had occasion to consider severability in the context of an omnibus enactment like the ACA, which includes not only many provisions that are ancillary to its central provisions but also many that are entirely unrelated—hitched on because it was a quick way to get them passed despite opposition, or because their proponents could exact their enactment as the quid pro quo for their needed support. When we are confronted with such a so-called “Christmas tree,” a law to which many nongermane ornaments have been attached, we think the proper rule must be that when the tree no longer exists the ornaments are superfluous. We have no reliable basis for knowing which pieces of the Act would have passed on their own. It is certain that many of them would not have, and it is not a proper function of this Court to guess which. To sever the statute in that manner “‘would be to make a new law, not to enforce an old one. This is not part of our duty.’”
Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U. S., at 99.
This Court must not impose risks unintended by Congress or produce legislation Congress may have lacked the support to enact. For those reasons, the unconstitutionality of both the Individual Mandate and the Medicaid Expansion requires the invalidation of the Affordable Care Act’s other provisions.
* * *
The Court today decides to save a statute Congress did not write. It rules that what the statute declares to be a requirement with a penalty is instead an option subject to a tax. And it changes the intentionally coercive sanction of a total cut-off of Medicaid funds to a supposedly noncoercive cut-off of only the incremental funds that the Act makes available.
The Court regards its strained statutory interpretation as judicial modesty. It is not. It amounts instead to a vast judicial overreaching. It creates a debilitated, inoperable version of health-care regulation that Congress did not enact and the public does not expect. It makes enactment of sensible health-care regulation more difficult, since Congress cannot start afresh but must take as its point of departure a jumble of now senseless provisions, provisions that certain interests favored under the Court’s new design will struggle to retain. And it leaves the public and the States to expend vast sums of money on requirements that may or may not survive the necessary congressional revision.
The Court’s disposition, invented and atextual as it is, does not even have the merit of avoiding constitutional difficulties. It creates them. The holding that the Individual Mandate is a tax raises a difficult constitutional question (what is a direct tax?) that the Court resolves with inadequate deliberation. And the judgment on the Medicaid Expansion issue ushers in new federalism concerns and places an unaccustomed strain upon the Union. Those States that decline the Medicaid Expansion must subsidize, by the federal tax dollars taken from their citizens, vast grants to the States that accept the Medicaid Expansion. If that destabilizing political dynamic, so antagonistic to a harmonious Union, is to be introduced at all, it should be by Congress, not by the Judiciary.
The values that should have determined our course today are caution, minimalism, and the understanding that the Federal Government is one of limited powers. But the Court’s ruling undermines those values at every turn. In the name of restraint, it overreaches. In the name of constitutional avoidance, it creates new constitutional questions. In the name of cooperative federalism, it undermines state sovereignty.
The Constitution, though it dates from the founding of the Republic, has powerful meaning and vital relevance to our own times. The constitutional protections that this case involves are protections of structure. Structural protections—notably, the restraints imposed by federalism and separation of powers—are less romantic and have less obvious a connection to personal freedom than the provisions of the Bill of Rights or the Civil War Amendments. Hence they tend to be undervalued or even forgotten by our citizens. It should be the responsibility of the Court to teach otherwise, to remind our people that the Framers considered structural protections of freedom the most important ones, for which reason they alone were embodied in the original Constitution and not left to later amendment. The fragmentation of power produced by the structure of our Government is central to liberty, and when we destroy it, we place liberty at peril. Today’s decision should have vindicated, should have taught, this truth; instead, our judgment today has disregarded it.
For the reasons here stated, we would find the Act invalid in its entirety. We respectfully dissent.
Cite as: 567 U. S. ____ (2012)
JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting.
I dissent for the reasons stated in our joint opinion, but I write separately to say a word about the Commerce Clause. The joint dissent and THE CHIEF JUSTICE correctly apply our precedents to conclude that the Individual Mandate is beyond the power granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Under those precedents, Congress may regulate“economic activity [that] substantially affects interstate commerce.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 560 (1995). I adhere to my view that “the very notion of a ‘substantial effects’ test under the Commerce Clause is inconsistent with the original understanding of Congress’ powers and with this Court’s early Commerce Clause cases.” United States v. Morrison, 529 U. S. 598, 627 (2000) (THOMAS, J., concurring); see also Lopez, supra, at 584–602 (THOMAS, J., concurring); Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U. S. 1, 67–69 (2005) (THOMAS, J., dissenting). As I have explained, the Court’s continued use of that test “has encouraged the Federal Government to persist in its view that the Commerce Clause has virtually no limits.” Morrison, supra, at 627. The Government’s unprecedented claim in this suit that it may regulate not only economic activity but also inactivity that substantially affects interstate commerce is a case in point.
— End Transcript —