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Court saga over Obamacare payments reaches end

Court saga over Obamacare payments reaches end

House GOP leaders declared victory Wednesday in a long-running dispute with the executive branch, noting a new settlement preserves a judge’s ruling that President Barack Obama reimbursed insurers unlawfully under his signature health program.

“In a battle over the separation of powers, the House has prevailed,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a motion to dismiss a long-running appeal in the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in 2016 that Mr. Obama could not make “cost-sharing payments” to insurers who pick up low-income customers’ costs on Obamacare’s exchanges, because Congress never appropriated the money.

House Republicans, who’d specifically zeroed out the money and then sued Mr. Obama for ignoring their wishes, hailed the ruling as a victory for the separation of powers, noting Capitol Hill controls the nation’s purse strings.

Yet Judge Collyer stayed her ruling pending the appeal, so the money kept flowing but the court battle bled into the Trump era, meaning opponents of Obamacare were on both sides of the litigation.

The GOP failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with something better, however, leaving the thorny issue of whether to continue the payments while the 2010 law remained on the books.

President Trump decided last year he could no longer make them unlawfully, raising an outcry from Obamacare’s defenders until they realized many subsidized customers were better off without them, since states designed their premium structures in a way that boosted a separate stream of subsidy payments.

Efforts to backfill the payments as part of an Obamacare stabilization bill fell apart this year amid a dispute over pro-life language and midterm year politics, so insurers and states were left to structure 2019 rates without the reimbursements.

Though Republicans are still grappling with their next steps on Obamacare, Mr. Ryan hailed the conclusion of the legal saga as an historic win for his chamber.

“When former Speaker John Boehner initiated this suit, it was to protect one of the House’s most primary authorities: the power to spend,” Mr. Ryan said. “Fighting for a successful conclusion has been an important priority for my speakership, and the result today preserves that only Congress, not the executive, can authorize spending. This is a historic outcome that leaves this institution stronger.”

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