Obama Says King v. Burwell Is an ‘Easy Case’

Obama Says King v. Burwell Is an ‘Easy Case’

Sylvia Burwell
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

House Republicans are gearing up to grill Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell this week over how the administration will handle any potential fallout if the Supreme Court strikes down federal subsidies for health insurance coverage in 34 states operating on the federal exchange. Burwell will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, ahead of the high court’s ruling in the high-stakes case of King v. Burwell, expected later this month. 

The plaintiffs in that case contend that the law’s language only provides for subsidies to people in states that created their own exchange. The Obama administration and authors of the law maintain that the law was intended to offer subsidies to all enrollees who are eligible based on their income regardless of which exchange they used. 

Related: If Obamacare Collapses, These 9 Ideas Could Save Health Care 

If the court rules against the administration, an estimated 6.5 million people could lose their subsidized health coverage. If that happens, experts say it could create a ripple effect throughout health insurance markets in federal exchange states. Nearly everyone agrees that such a ruling would be devastating for millions of Americans. However, there is little agreement over what, if anything, to do to stem such fallout if the court rules for the plaintiffs. 

Asked why his administration has given little guidance to states on how to prepare for the potential loss of federal insurance subsidies, President Obama on Monday said, “there is no reason why the existing exchanges should be overturned through a court case.” 

King v. Burwell “should be an easy case,” Obama said. “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up. And since we’re going to get a ruling pretty quick, I think it’s important for us to go ahead and assume that the Supreme Court is going to do what most legal scholars who’ve looked at this would expect them to do.” 

Obama added that Congress could also resolve any problems raised by a court ruling “with a one-sentence provision.” 

Related: Double Digit Rate Hikes Loom for Obamacare 2016  

That kind of response is unlikely to satisfy House Republicans, who are likely to again question Burwell’s previous claims that the administration does not have a “Plan B” in place if the court strikes down federal subsidies for millions of Americans. 

Last week, during a Wall Street Journal breakfast, Burwell explained that the administration’s authority is limited. She added that her agency would work with states that are considering creating their own exchanges or using workarounds to avoid losing out on the federal subsidies. 

“As always, we will stand ready to work with states, but in terms of administrative authority, we can’t do much,” Burwell said. 

Republicans, who have long sought to repeal Obamacare, have criticized the administration for not having a contingency plan in place if the subsidies get struck down. 

Number of the Day: $22 Trillion

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The total national debt surpassed $22 trillion on Monday. Total public debt outstanding reached $22,012,840,891,685.32, to be exact. That figure is up by more than $1.3 trillion over the past 12 months and by more than $2 trillion since President Trump took office.

Chart of the Week: The Soaring Cost of Insulin

Client Sanon has her finger pricked for a blood sugar test in the Family Van in Boston
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The cost of insulin used to treat Type 1 diabetes nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016, according to an analysis released this week by the Health Care Cost Institute. Researchers found that the average point-of-sale price increased “from $7.80 a day in 2012 to $15 a day in 2016 for someone using an average amount of insulin (60 units per day).” Annual spending per person on insulin rose from $2,864 to $5,705 over the five-year period. And by 2016, insulin costs accounted for nearly a third of all heath care spending for those with Type 1 diabetes (see the chart below), which rose from $12,467 in 2012 to $18,494. 

Chart of the Day: Shutdown Hits Like a Hurricane

An aerial view shows a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina
© CHRIS KEANE / Reuters
By Michael Rainey

The partial government shutdown has hit the economy like a hurricane – and not just metaphorically. Analysts at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said Tuesday that the shutdown has now cost the economy about $26 billion, close to the average cost of $27 billion per hurricane calculated by the Congressional Budget Office for storms striking the U.S. between 2000 and 2015. From an economic point of view, it’s basically “a self-imposed natural disaster,” CRFB said. 

Chart of the Week: Lowering Medicare Drug Prices

A growing number of patients are being denied access to newer oral chemotherapy drugs for cancer pills with annual price tags of more than $75,000.
iStockphoto
By Michael Rainey

The U.S. could save billions of dollars a year if Medicare were empowered to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, according to a paper published by JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this week. Researchers compared the prices of the top 50 oral drugs in Medicare Part D to the prices for the same drugs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which negotiates its own prices and uses a national formulary. They found that Medicare’s total spending was much higher than it would have been with VA pricing.

In 2016, for example, Medicare Part D spent $32.5 billion on the top 50 drugs but would have spent $18 billion if VA prices were in effect – or roughly 45 percent less. And the savings would likely be larger still, Axios’s Bob Herman said, since the study did not consider high-cost injectable drugs such as insulin.