Supreme Court hears arguments over Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor programs
© WikiMedia (David Dugan)
Supreme Court hears arguments over Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor programs

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments for two cases, including one on the Affordable Care Act and one on criminal procedure rules.

The court first heard argument in Maine Community Health Options v. United States and consolidated cases. Under the Affordable Care Act’s “risk corridor” programs, private insurance companies are promised by the government that they will be reimbursed for setting the premium low and insuring previously uninsured people “on unprecedented terms.”

Paul Clement, lawyer for the petitioners, said that the program “depended on a clear and enforceable promise that the government would pay for a portion of any losses incurred by the health insurance companies that stepped forward.” After the losses incurred, however, “the government then started pointing to some ambiguous appropriations riders.” Petitioners argued that while Congress has the power of the purse, it is not disabled from “making an enforceable promise to open the purse in the future on specified terms,” and the language of the Affordable Care Act did not repeal government’s obligation to make payments to insurance companies. The government, on the other hand, argued that Appropriations Clause of the Constitution provides that there is no enforceable promise to make payment to the insurance companies, but any payment should be contingent upon a future appropriation.

Next, the court heard arguments in Holguin-Hernandez v. United States. The central issue is whether Rule 52(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provides permits an appellate court to correct a trial court’s “plain error” despite the lack of an objection in the trial court, works with Rule 51(b), which allows a party to preserve a claim of error at ruling for appeal.

Kendall Turner, petitioner’s lawyer, said that in all federal courts except the Fifth Circuit, Rule 51 means that “a criminal defendant who argues for a particular sentence in district court preserves for appeal a challenge to a longer sentence.” However, in the Fifth Circuit, criminal defendants “must argue for a particular sentence in district court during the sentencing hearing and must object to any longer sentence as substantively unreasonable after the sentence issues.” A twist to the present case is that government had admitted error in the lower court, and instead takes the position that a party “must identify the length beyond which a sentence is substantively unreasonable.” According to petitioner, the position of the amicus was just “trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”