Congress Reacts to Hobby Lobby Ruling

The Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case will reverberate on Capitol Hill this week, with Democrat-authored legislation to reverse the ruling expected to come up in the House and Senate. The court’s ruling allows closely held, for-profit corporations to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate if their owners have religious objections to birth control.  There’s very little chance that the Republican-led House would pass the legislation, but Democrats are hoping to capitalize on the issue politically.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing this week on federal investigators’ findings that federal and certain state insurance exchanges have been largely unable to verify the eligibility of individuals applying for coverage and federal subsidies to help pay for it. A report from the Health and Human Services Department's inspector general released last month found that the exchanges were in many cases unable to resolve inconsistencies in eligibility data as of the first quarter of 2014, because the eligibility system set up by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was not initially fully operational. 

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. could rule this week on another legal challenge to the ACA.  At issue in Halbig v. Burwell is whether the ACA’s statutory text gives the IRS authority to offer premium subsidies through federally-run health insurance exchanges. Other legal challenges to that authority have failed in federal courts, but a decision for the plaintiffs could put the issue on the Supreme Court’s agenda starting in October. Nullifying subsidies in states using federal exchanges would also effectively gut the employer “play or pay” mandate in those states.

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