2014 Health Care Reform Court Decisions Impact on Employers

          Federal Courts Issue Conflicting Rulings
          on Subsidies in Federal Exchanges


Following the appellate court rulings, the Obama administration indicated that federal subsidies will continue to be available to eligible individuals in all states, including those with FFEs.

This availability of subsidies may have significant implications for employers as a result of the ACA’s employer mandate. Under the employer mandate, large employers may face penalties if they do not offer coverage that meets certain requirements to their full-time employees.

However, penalties apply only if an employee receives a subsidy to buy coverage through an Exchange. If the subsidy is available only in state-based Exchanges, employers would not be subject to penalties for employees living in states with an FFE.

Several lawsuits have been filed by individuals and employers to challenge the ability of the federal government to provide tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to individuals in states that did not establish their own Exchanges (that is, in states with federally-facilitated exchanges, or FFEs). These lawsuits were filed in response to an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rule that authorizes subsidies in all states, including those with FFEs.

On July 22, 2014, two federal appeals courts—the District of Columbia Circuit Court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court—issued inconsistent rulings on the availability of subsidies in states with FFEs.

In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court held that the IRS rule authorizing subsidies in states with FFEs is invalid. In a 2-1 opinion, the court ruled that the text of the ACA clearly restricts the subsidies to individuals in states that established their own Exchanges.

In King v. Burwell, the 4th Circuit Court unanimously upheld the availability of the ACA’s subsidies in states with their own Exchanges and in states with FFEs.