Reflecting on a Year of Health-Related Matters at the Supreme Court

In a recent episode of the KFF Health News’ weekly health policy podcast, “What the Health?” Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent, and legal director of the National Health Law Program, Sarah Somers, addressed key health policy issues that grasped the Supreme Court’s attention this past year.

Health Policy Shakers from the Supreme Court

Broadly, these areas included governmental functioning, abortion-centric issues, and other health matters that were under the judicial lens. Notably, the justices of the Supreme Court were confronted with two abortion cases and a case involving the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Governmental Functioning and Policy Involvement

In terms of governmental functioning, the justices had to address two cases. One case, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, challenged the “Chevron doctrine” which dictates that the courts must respect the expertise of federal agencies when interpreting laws from Congress. The other case, Corner Post Inc. v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, questioned the time limit for filing a case against a federal agency’s actions.

Abortion-Based Matters

On the abortion front, the court wrestled with the cases of Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and Moyle v. United States. The former contested the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The latter debated whether the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) can override Idaho’s near-complete abortion ban during a medical emergency involving a pregnant woman.

Digging into Other Health Concerns

Other health-related issues taken up by the court included Harrington v. Purdue Pharma, which questioned whether federal bankruptcy law can protect a company from future claims without the consent of all claimants. The City of Grants Pass v. Johnson case dealt with a human rights issue, addressing whether banning public sleeping is cruel and unusual punishment for homeless people.

The Knock-On Effect of These Cases

Exploring the ramifications of these cases, the panel particularly noted the potential impact of the Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Corner Post Inc. v. Board of Governors cases. The repercussion of ruling against the previously established “Chevron doctrine” could dramatically alter how the federal government oversees health care and other policy areas.

Dissenters argue that overturning the Chevron doctrine would allow courts to prioritize their interpretation over that of experts in the respective federal agencies. This case could have a widespread impact on various domains including health, environment, and transportation.

Furthermore, the Corner Post Inc. case opens up litigation avenues for entities with ample resources to challenge long-standing regulations, potentially creating an uneven platform for other stakeholders.

Navigating Health-Adjacent Issues

In addition to intense health policy cases, the Supreme Court also considered ‘health care-adjacent’ subjects. One such case was a bankruptcy settlement issue involving Purdue Pharma, the producer of the high addictive opioid OxyContin. The court ruled against a settlement, expressing concern over the settlement’s efficacy in compensating the debtors or future victims.

The court also ruled on a case that potentially impacts public health. It stated that cities could enforce bans against public sleeping even if the individuals have no housing or access to shelter.

Looking Ahead

Concluding the discussion, Somers noted that the judgement against the Chevron doctrine and the Corner Post Inc. case could potentially cause a significant shift in health policy. This judgment could affect multiple areas ranging from controversial topics such as abortion and family planning to more practical logistics like patient billing and hospital functioning.

Overall, the cases reviewed this term underline the court’s evolving role in health policy and adjacent areas, hinting towards future uncertainties as checks and balances continue to oscillate.

To keep up-to-date with how these changes unfold and their potential effect on health policy, stay tuned to the weekly podcast “What the Health?”


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