U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria plans to give a ruling next week regarding a request that would force the White House to make Obamacare subsidy payments as it plans to cut off beginning with a payment just this week.
A group of 19 states filed suit last week in federal court in San Francisco, asking that the Department of Health and Human Services be required to continue the so-called cost-sharing reduction payments despite President Donald Trump’s announcement last week that they would be ended.
During a telephone scheduling hearing on the states’ request for a temporary restraining order requiring the government to continue the payments, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria said he’d like to rule on that issue next week.
A lawyer for the states, Greg Brown, said the issue is urgent because failing to make the payments to insurance companies on time will disrupt the insurance markets.
“It injects a large amount of chaos into the health care system” and the Affordable Care Act, said Brown, a California deputy solicitor general, after Chhabria asked what harm would arise from a two-week delay.
“The chaos and disruption is going to potentially cause insurers to raise their rates and potentially drop out of certain markets,” Brown said, noting that the open-enrollment period for Obamacare begins Nov. 1. “Even a two-week delay would, we believe, cause fewer people to be insured.”
A federal government lawyer, James Burnham of the Department of Justice, noted that the law doesn’t actually require that the payments be made on any specific schedule, but simply that they be “periodic and timely.”
Even if the judge ordered the payments to continue, “the government would still have discretion about when to make the payments — it could be quarterly, it could be biannually,” Burnham said.