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Delay sought on health care at appeals court

Lawyers for challengers to the subsidy system that exists under the Affordable Care Act, to help people with lower incomes afford health insurance, asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday to put a pending appeal on that issue on hold while the Supreme Court reviews the controversy. The “motion to hold in abeyance” is here.

“Simply put,” the motion said, “there is no reason to consume the substantial resources associated with en banc rehearing when the Supreme Court is poised to decide the same issue on virtually the same timeline.”

The Justices agreed on Friday to rule on the case of King v. Burwell, with a hearing likely in March and a decision by the end of June. The D.C. Circuit has agreed to review the same legal issue before the full bench in the case of Halbig v. Burwell. Briefing at the appeals court is due to be completed next Monday, and a hearing is set for December 17.

The motion said that the Obama administration was asked for its view on the plea for delay, but replied that it would not “determine its position until Wednesday at earliest.” The document said the plea was being filed today because the challengers’ reply brief is due next Monday, and that would not have to be filed if the case were put on hold.

The document cited other instances in which the D.C. Circuit had put en banc review on hold pending a decision by the Supreme Court on a related case.

“The Supreme Court’s resolution of King will directly control this case,” the motion said.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit had ruled that the subsidies can only be distributed for individuals who shop for health insurance on one of the marketplaces (or “exchanges”) set up by sixteen state governments, and thus would not be available to those who obtained insurance on a federally run exchange — as in thirty-four other states.

That panel decision conflicted directly with a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, finding that Congress’s goal of a nationwide system of health insurance meant that the exchange language in the law could be interpreted as the Obama administration does — for every exchange, no matter which level of government organized it.   The Fourth Circuit reached that decision in the King case.

The D.C. Circuit panel decision was set aside when en banc review was granted.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Delay sought on health care at appeals court, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 10, 2014, 4:17 PM),