Sanford Health Plan v. United States, No. 19-1290 (Fed. Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congress directed each state to establish an online exchange through which insurers may sell health plans if the plans meet certain requirements. One requirement is that insurers must reduce the “cost-sharing” burdens—such as the burdens of making co-payments and meeting deductibles—of certain customers. When insurers meet that requirement, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall reimburse them for those cost-sharing reductions, 42 U.S.C. 18071(c)(3)(A). In October 2017, the Secretary stopped making reimbursement payments, due to determinations that such payments were not within the congressional appropriation that the Secretary had, until then, invoked to pay the reimbursements. Sanford, a seller of insurance through the North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa exchanges, and Montana Health, a seller through the Montana and Idaho exchanges, sued.
The trial courts granted the insurers summary judgment, reasoning that the ACA reimbursement provision is “money-mandating” and that the government is liable for damages for its failure to make reimbursements for the 2017 reductions. The court did not reach the contract claim in either case. The Federal Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2020 “Maine Community,” addressing a different payment-obligation ACA provision. Maine Community indicates that the cost-sharing-reduction reimbursement provision imposes an unambiguous obligation on the government to pay money; that obligation is enforceable in the Claims Court under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1).