Vital Signs Blog

Does HHS have a King v. Burwell plan B? Who needs one, Burwell asks

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell repeatedly dodged questions during a Tuesday news conference regarding whether the Obama administration has any contingency plans in place should the U.S. Supreme Court not rule in its favor in the King v. Burwell case.

Oral arguments on the matter will take place March 4 and a decision is expected by the end of June. The stakes are high. Consumers living in the 37 states relying on as their insurance marketplace could lose premium subsidies depending on the case's outcome.

Despite the potentially devastating effect that could have, Burwell declined to comment on any doomsday-scenario planning her agency may be doing. Its focus is on open enrollment and expanding Medicaid to more individuals, she said.

“We believe we are in a place where our argument and our position will prevail,” Burwell said. “I think anyone can create any kind of hypothetical in life and in policy. I think what we're focused on now is the law of the land,” she said.

If the Supreme Court rules against the administration, over 13 million Americans could lose tax credits to help pay for insurance coverage in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The tax credits are worth on average over $4,800 annually, meaning approximately $65 billion in tax credits are at risk.

Burwell's refusal to discuss any plan B comes just days after Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified that the administration does not plan to inform federal exchange enrollees that they could lose subsidies depending on the ruling.

GOP lawmakers in particular have expressed ongoing concern about HHS' decision to not talk to federal marketplace purchasers about the potential fallout of the lawsuit.

“Without this information, many families could turn down more secure coverage options (e.g., through a different employer) in favor of less-secure Obamacare coverage,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and others said in a Dec. 17 letter to Burwell.

“We urge you to reconsider this position and to ensure that these Americans have all available information as they make decisions about health insurance coverage next year.”

The letter also requested that the agency provide information on any actions that the administration is preparing to ensure that people who may potentially lose subsidies as the result of the lawsuit not be subjected to Obamacare's individual and employer mandates and associated tax penalties.

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson


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