The legal battle over herring fishing has major implications for health care

The legal battle over herring fishing has major implications for health care

What do herring fishing policy and health policy have in common? It turns out that’s OK, because of a case now before the Supreme Court.

If the justices rule as expected, based on this month’s oral arguments, they could dramatically change the way federal health agencies operate. “The disruption he causes…would be enormous,” says an amicus brief filed on behalf of the court. American Cancer Society And dozens of other health groups.

in his face, Relentless Inc. Against the Ministry of Commerce And Luber Brite Enterprises v. Raymundo (The two cases were heard together) on whether commercial herring fishermen must pay for government monitors assigned to their boats. But those who brought the case are fishing for a much bigger fish: overturning 40 years of Supreme Court precedent that upholds modern federal regulation.

Under the “Chevron Doctrine” – named after a 1984 case Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council – In cases where laws are ambiguous, federal courts are supposed to defer to the interpretation of laws by the agencies that enforce them, as long as that interpretation is “reasonable.”

Hunting groups (partially supported by a group funded by anti-ISIS crusading groups Charles Koch) The court wants to overturn it ChevronThus transferring much of the authority to interpret federal law from the executive bureaucracy to Congress and federal judges.

This could lead to real disruption in the health care systemAccording to the groups that provided the amicus brief to the court. It would suddenly put long-standing regulations governing drug safety, public health, Medicare and Medicaid — insurance programs that together cover more than a third of all Americans — at risk of new legal challenges.

“It’s just a matter of stability and certainty,” he said. Sarah SomersLegal Director of National Health Law Program And the author of the summary, in an interview about KFF Health News podcastWhat health?

For example, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services“He has the experience, the time, the resources, and he has a duty to know what these specific terms and laws mean, and how the programs should work,” Sommers said.

While federal bureaucrats are often treated as punching bags by politicians and voters, many are appointed because of their expertise in areas that most Americans would probably agree require regulation — such as drug safety.

“The idea of ​​the courts, every drug being challenged in every forum, and having to delve into what that means without taking into account the agency would just be a recipe for chaos, really,” Sommers said.

Situations challenging federal health care policy can arise across the country. in absence Chevron“If you have hundreds of district courts and appellate courts coming up with different interpretations of these terms, you’re going to have a lot of problems,” Sommers said.

There is also the possibility of reopening cases that have already been decided. Without the rule requiring lower courts to defer to agency interpretations, “litigants will go out of business seeking to open up those decisions and claim that they have not actually addressed what they now say is the relevant question,” Solicitor General Elizabeth b. Prilogar he told the court during oral arguments on Jan. 17.

This ability to look back, especially by “large interests that have a lot of time and resources to devote to litigation,” can lead to “a lot of uncertainty, a lot of disruption, a lot of problems for companies,” Sommers said. The courts and all entities operating under these regulations.

A decision in this case is expected later this year.

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