Decision day on docket for ACA challenges
Twenty months after President Barack Obama signs comprehensive healthcare reform into law, the U.S. Supreme Court announces it will hear challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and possibly decide the law’s fate.
The justices set a court date in March 2012 for oral arguments on whether Congress had constitutional authority to pass the law. The schedule means that the court will pass judgment on challenges to the ACA by the end of June—in the heat of a presidential election cycle.
The court agrees to consider several questions on the law: whether the federal mandate for individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 is constitutional; whether the rest of the law could stand on its own without the mandate; and whether the court has jurisdiction to consider either of those questions before 2014. The court also agrees to consider a fourth question, whether the law’s expansion of Medicaid amounts to illegal coercion of the states. Although the ACA faces legal challenges in about three dozen federal courts across the country, the Supreme Court chooses to accept all four questions from one case: Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, in which 26 states and state leaders are the plaintiffs against the federal government. It’s also the only case in which critics of the law have won at the federal appeals level.
The Federal Trade Commission maintains an aggressive stance on hospital mergers, challenging three in 2011. The FTC wins a case in an administrative court challenging the acquisition of a hospital in Maumee, Ohio, by Toledo’s Promedica, though an appeal is announced hours after the opinion. The agency also lost a case in appeals court challenging an acquisition by Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany, Ga., and opted to open a new challenge of an acquisition in Rockford, Ill., by Peoria, Ill.-based OSF Healthcare System.
More than 100 hospitals confess to technical violations of the Stark law against physician self-referral, using a new disclosure tool in the ACA designed to reduce penalties in exchange for confessions, the self-referral disclosure protocol. Swamped CMS officials announce a total of one settlement publicly during the year.
Officials in the labor-heavy healthcare world watch as the National Labor Relations Board under Obama announces plans to “modernize” union-election laws. Congressional Republicans revolt, proposing laws to overturn NLRB decisions and give all employers at least a month to prepare for union elections. The board approves a more limited set of labor reforms aimed at cutting off lengthy appeals in contested elections.