Judge rejects bid by 18 US states to revive Obamacare subsidies

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 October 2017
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Judge rejects bid by 18 US states to revive Obamacare subsidies

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON: A US judge on Wednesday refused to block President Donald Trump’s decision to end subsidy payments to health insurers under Obamacare, handing Trump a victory against Democratic attorneys general who have regularly challenged the president’s policies in court.
US District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said the federal government did not have to make the payments while litigation over the subsidies unfolds.
Chhabria, appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, wrote that although the case appeared to be a close call, “it appears initially that the Trump administration has the stronger legal argument.”
The Trump administration this month terminated the payments to the insurers, which help cover medical expenses for low-income Americans, as part of several moves to dismantle Obama’s signature health care law formally known as the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic attorneys general have repeatedly opposed Trump in court this year over immigration, the environment and health care.
After Trump’s decision to end the insurance subsidies, 18 states and the District of Columbia asked for an immediate order halting Trump’s move while the case is being litigated. They argued that terminating the payments harmed customers by raising insurance rates.
In his ruling, Chhabria said the kind of emergency order requested by the states was not necessary.
“The truth is that most state regulators have devised responses that give millions of lower-income people better health coverage options than they would otherwise have had,” Chhabria said.
“This is true in almost all the states joining this lawsuit,” the judge added.
US Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said the subsidy payments usurped Congress’ spending power and that the department was pleased with Chhabria’s ruling.

BIPARTISAN PROPOSAL
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading the lawsuit, said in a statement that Trump’s decision undermined payments that keep health care affordable.
“Without an emergency order halting the Trump action, swift action in this litigation becomes even more compelling,” he said.
US Senator Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said the ruling “only makes it more critical” that the Senate pass a bipartisan agreement she co-authored, which would authorize the subsidies.
Earlier on Wednesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would cut the US deficit by $3.8 billion over the next decade.
The subsidies were amounting to nearly $600 million a month. They were due to cost $7 billion this year and were estimated to grow to $10 billion for 2018, according to congressional analysts.
With the beginning of enrollment for 2018 insurance policies on Obamacare exchanges set for Nov. 1, Chhabria suggested that the states focus on communicating the message that they have devised a response to the subsidy cuts that prevents harm to a large number of people.
“If the states are so concerned that people will be scared away from the exchanges by the thought of higher premiums, perhaps they should stop yelling about higher premiums,” Chhabria wrote.
Insurers say they do not profit from the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but pass them on directly to consumers to reduce deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income people.
Premiums for Obamacare “silver” plans, generally the most popular type of health insurance plan on the individual health insurance market, rose 34 percent on average for 2018, according to an analysis published on Wednesday by Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm.


More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

Updated 24 April 2019
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More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

  • Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday
  • The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban

DURBAN: At least 60 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have fled their homes after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides along South Africa’s eastern coast, authorities said on Wednesday.
Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province. Flooding also killed at least three people in neighboring Eastern Cape province, state broadcaster SABC said.
The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban. Multiple dwellings collapsed in mudslides, said Robert McKenzie, a KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services spokesman.
Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday.
Victor da Silva, a resident of the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to evacuate before the floods destroyed their home and cars.
“On Monday, the water was just crazy. And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining,” Da Silva said. “And then an hour and a half later, everything poof (vanished) because the rain just hasn’t stopped.
Authorities in southern Tanzania ordered evacuations of residents from low-lying areas and the closure of schools and offices ahead of landfall of Tropical Cyclone Kenneth on neighboring Mozambique’s coast on Thursday.
“We’ve decided to evacuate all residents of valleys and other low-lying areas and we advise them to seek refuge at public spaces,” Mtwara regional commissioner Gelasius Byakanwa, told reporters.
Johan Fourie said he fled his home in Amanzimtoti, Kwazulu-Natal, just before part of it collapsed.
“I nearly lost my life, and my neighbor, I believe, is in hospital,” Fourie told eNCA television.
The region had been hit by heavy rains for days, but authorities did not foresee the extent of the downpour late on Monday, said Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department.
“As a result, there was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people,” Mabaso said.
Some people were swept away by the water, he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday and was expected in the Eastern Cape in the next few days.
“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” he said.
Last week, 13 people were killed during an Easter service in KwaZulu-Natal when a church wall collapsed after days of heavy rains and strong winds.