AHCA Failed…Now What?
Moments before a scheduled vote on the bill, Republican House leaders announced that they were pulling the American Health Care Act (AHCA) from consideration. Such a move, made because of a shortage of votes needed to pass the bill, has thrown the political arena into disarray and uncertainty. As of right now, it looks like President Donald Trump is going to leave the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in place and move onto other priorities of his, such as tax reform. Even still, there are other options out there with respect to health care and what may happen next.
The Administration’s authority to make changes in the health arena is extremely broad. It includes: executive orders, rules, or other executive guidance based on the extensive body of statutes governing federal health care programs; pre-ACA demonstration and waiver authority; and demonstration authority given to the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) under the ACA. The Trump Administration also has broad opportunities to aggressively interpret these authorities with minimal chance that its actions will be overridden by Congress.
Further, courts review executive actions with deference, thereby limiting actions subject to judicial modification.
For example, with respect to legislative possibilities, it is possible that key Senate leaders, such as Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, could take a role in brokering an agreement that could pass the Senate with 60 votes. Under such a scenario, major changes would be likely to the House approach on Medicaid expansion, tax credits, and insurance reforms. Moreover, per-capita caps would be unlikely to pass bipartisan muster. Such efforts could be characterized as an attempt to “fix” the ACA, or could end up being a rebranding exercise altogether – even something to the tune of “Trumpcare,” perhaps. But significant challenges would exist in reconciling such a package with Republican promises to “repeal and replace” the ACA. It is also possible that Republicans could seek to pass a “clean” repeal of the ACA – something they have done before, which was vetoed by President Obama in Jan. 2016 – without any agreement on how to replace it.
While the ACA remains in place, it is likely that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price will look to his regulatory toolbox to provide “relief” from ACA regulations and reverse Obama administration regulations in general.
Additionally, the Trump administration has indicated they will seek to facilitate expedited approval of Medicaid waiver applications to reshape the program for the poor and disabled. Specifically, Secretary Price and CMS Administrator Seema Verma have suggested that states may consider policies imposing work requirements for able-bodies adults, “Health Savings Account-like features,” and various cost-sharing policies common in commercial insurance, like premium payments and emergency room copayments.
Within hours of his inauguration, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) signaling his Administration’s policy of seeking “prompt repeal” of the ACA through wide-ranging executive action. The EO lays the groundwork for federal agencies’ efforts to take intermediate regulatory steps to unravel parts of the ACA, although no specific policies are implemented via the order itself.
The order says HHS and other ACA implementing agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor (DOL), shall “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement” of the ACA to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
The order identifies burdens on states and taxes and penalties on individuals, insurers, providers, or drug and device manufacturers and encourages flexibility for states as well as action to promote a “free and open market in interstate commerce,” including for health insurance.