Maine Community Health Options v. United States

Justia Summary

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act established online exchanges where insurers could sell their healthcare plans. The now-expired “Risk Corridors” program aimed to limit the plans’ profits and losses during the first three years (2014-2016). Under 31 U.S.C. 1342, eligible profitable plans “shall pay” the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, while the Secretary “shall pay” eligible unprofitable plans. The Act neither appropriated funds nor limited the amounts that the government might pay. There was no requirement that the program be budget-neutral. The total deficit exceeded $12 billion. At the end of each year, the appropriations bills for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services included a rider preventing the Centers from using the funds for Risk Corridors payments. The Federal Circuit rejected Tucker Act claims for damages by health-insurance companies that claimed losses under the program.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Risk Corridors statute created an obligation to pay insurers the full amount set out in section 1342’s formula. The government may incur an obligation directly through statutory language, without details about how the obligation must be satisfied. The Court noted the mandatory term “shall,” and adjacent provisions, which differentiate between when the Secretary “shall” act and when she “may” exercise discretion. Congress did not impliedly repeal the obligation through its appropriations riders. which do not indicate “any other purpose than the disbursement of a sum of money for the particular fiscal years.”

The Risk Corridors statute is fairly interpreted as mandating compensation for damages, and neither Tucker Act exception applies. Nor does the APA bar a Tucker Act suit. The insurers seek specific sums already calculated, past due, and designed to compensate for completed labors. Because the Risk Corridors program expired this litigation presents no special concern about managing a complex ongoing relationship.