You might be surprised to hear that a case in front of the Supreme Court right now concerning Atlantic Herring Fishermen has the potential to significantly impact the healthcare industry.
Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v Natural Resources Defence Council, Inc.
At the heart of the Atlantic Herring Fisherman case is the principle of "Chevron deference" – a legal doctrine established by the 1984 Supreme Court case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. This principle allows courts to defer to a federal agency's interpretation of ambiguous laws within its scope of authority. Why does this matter to us? Because healthcare regulations are often subject to interpretation by agencies like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Potential Impacts to Health if Chevron Deference is Overturned
If the Supreme Court overturns or significantly modifies this precedent in the context of the Atlantic Herring Fishermen's case, it would have a substantial impact on how healthcare laws are interpreted and implemented. Here are some potential effects:
- Increased Judicial Scrutiny of Healthcare Regulations: Without Chevron deference, courts may take a more active role in interpreting healthcare laws instead of deferring to the interpretations of federal agencies like CMS or the FDA. This could lead to more litigation over the interpretation of healthcare laws and regulations. And we all know that more litigation = more time.
- Impact on Existing and Future Regulations: Many existing healthcare regulations could be re-evaluated if courts are no longer bound to follow agency interpretations. This re-evaluation could lead to significant changes in the regulatory landscape, affecting providers, insurers, and patients.
- Uncertainty and Instability in Healthcare Markets: The potential for increased litigation and changing interpretations of regulations may create uncertainty and instability in the healthcare market. Healthcare organizations might find it challenging to ensure compliance when the legal framework becomes less predictable.
- Legislative Clarity Becomes Crucial: If Chevron deference is weakened or eliminated, the clarity and specificity of new healthcare legislation would become more critical. Congress might need to be more detailed in its statutory language to avoid ambiguity that agencies currently resolve.
- Impact on Policy Implementation: Agencies like the FDA and CMS might face challenges in implementing policies if their interpretations of statutes are not given deference. This could slow down the process of policy implementation and create challenges in responding swiftly to healthcare needs.
- Potential Politicization of Judicial Interpretations: Without Chevron, there might be a concern that judicial interpretations of healthcare statutes could become more politicized, as judges bring their own views and understandings to statutory interpretation, rather than deferring to expert agencies.
While the Atlantic Herring Fisherman case directly involves fisheries, its outcome could set a precedent that affects all sectors regulated by federal agencies, including healthcare. Changes in administrative law can ripple through various aspects of policy implementation, compliance, and enforcement. Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court yesterday and a ruling is not expected until sometime in June.
For those of us in the health IT field, it’s a reminder of the interconnectedness of legal precedents and the importance of staying ahead in a rapidly evolving regulatory environment.