The lawsuit the House GOP filed against President Obama on Friday opened a new front in the attack on the 2010 healthcare law, this time targeting the subsidies that reduce deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses faced by lower-income Americans. According to the complaint, the subsidies should not have been paid because Congress never formally appropriated the money for them. The claim is legally suspect, but more important, it misidentifies the party responsible for the alleged lawbreaking. It also puts Republicans in the position of making health insurance even less affordable for struggling constituents.
The case has been in the works at least since July, when the House voted to sue Obama for allegedly exceeding his authority as president when he implemented the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Half of the lawsuit focuses on the administration's unilateral decision to delay the law's mandate that businesses with 50 or more workers provide comprehensive health benefits — a mandate, by the way, that Republicans opposed. The other half focuses on the law's requirements that insurers reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for lower-income customers, and that the government make "periodic and timely payments" to insurers to cover their costs.
The complaint contends that the administration asked Congress to appropriate $4 billion for these cost-sharing subsidies in fiscal 2014. After lawmakers essentially ignored the request, the complaint says, the administration went ahead and made the payments to insurers anyway in violation of the federal Anti-Deficiency Act. But the healthcare law compels insurers in no uncertain terms to provide the subsidies and requires the government to reimburse them. Congress has done nothing to change those statutory mandates or to alleviate the government's obligation to spend the money. Besides, the Anti-Deficiency Act was designed to prevent an administration from creating obligations Congress hadn't approved, not to excuse the government from fulfilling the ones Congress itself created.
As we've said before, the courts are likely to toss out the case because the dispute is political, not legal. Still, it's worth noting how Republicans have sought to undermine and destabilize the Affordable Care Act by attacking the benefits it provides to Americans on the lowest economic rungs. This lawsuit, which would affect millions who earn near-poverty-level wages, follows a case brought by conservative activists that seeks to end insurance subsidies for more than 13 million low- and moderate-income Americans in 37 states. We get that Republicans are intractably opposed to the healthcare law, but it is particularly shameful that they should take it out on the Americans most in need of the help.
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