Becerra vs. Empire Health Foundation Could Forever Change HHS' Authority
Healthcare policy attorney Robert Bradner spoke with Health Evolution about a current case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could affect federal agencies' authority to interpret laws. Becerra v. Empire Health Foundation concerns the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) 2005 rule that changed how it calculated the annual reimbursement rate Medicare pays to hospitals serving low-income patients. More specifically, the Empire Health Foundation is challenging HHS' use of the phrase "entitled to" instead of "eligible to" when calculating these payments. Although the court's ruling would seem to affect a small group of hospitals, Mr. Bradner explained it actually implicates a larger question on the deference courts give to agency interpretations of federal laws. He explained that this issue is particularly relevant when healthcare legislation is tricky to pass through a divided Congress and agencies have to spend more time interpreting the laws they implement.
"In this day and age where it's difficult to get agreement on the legislation and where Congress is often vague on key issues in order to bridge political differences, agencies have more and more been left to fill in the gaps. A change in that level of deference could create a lot of difficulties," he said.