Entries in Supreme Court (13)


Health Care Ruling Will Affect Cost of Law, Number of Those Covered

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Last month's Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act has both good and bad news for Americans.

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, about three million people on the lower rung of the income scale won't have access to free medical coverage as originally dictated by the law.

However, the ruling also means that taxpayers won't be on the hook for an additional $84 billion since the high court ruled that states have the option of not taking part in a major expansion of the government Medicaid insurance program for the poor.

In spite of these changes, the CBO says the Affordable Care Act, which presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney says he will repeal if he wins the presidency, will remain mostly intact.

Should Obama be reelected, it would likely mean that 30 million people currently without health insurance will get covered by 2022.

Furthermore, the costs of additional coverage will be offset by new taxes and federal spending cuts that would help to lower the federal deficit, the CBO said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Health Care Law Mandate ‘Tax’: How Much Is It?

Creatas/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Beginning in 2014, if you are uninsured, not exempt from the new mandate, and refuse to sign up for health care coverage, how much will you owe Uncle Sam?

The health care law sets out a formula to determine your penalty, which will be assessed and collected by the IRS as part of your federal income taxes.

The penalty will be the greater of a flat dollar amount per person or a percentage of your taxable income.  For dependents under 18, the penalty is half the individual amount.

The annual penalty is capped at an amount roughly equal to the cost of the national average premium for a qualified health plan — in other words you cannot be forced to pay more than it would have cost to buy a plan in the first place.

Flat dollar amount for individuals:  $95 in 2014; $325 in 2015; and $695 in 2016; increases indexed to inflation after that, subject to a cap.

For example, courtesy Blue Cross Blue Shield:  An uninsured family of three (two parents and one child under 18), not exempt from the mandate, would have a flat dollar penalty of $1,737 in 2016.

Percentage of individual taxable income:  fixed percentage of household income in excess of tax filing threshold – 1% in 2014; 2% in 2015; 2.5% in 2016.

For example (again courtesy Blue Cross Blue Shield):  An uninsured, non-exempt individual with household income of $50,000 would be forced to pay 1 percent of the difference between $50,000 and the tax threshold (let’s say $10,00 for an individual in 2014), or roughly $400. Since $400 is greater than $95, this individual would have to pay $400.

There are plenty of exemptions from the penalty. You do not face it if your insurance premiums would be more than 8 percent of your gross income, if you’re a member of an American Indian tribe, or if you lacked insurance for less than three months during a year.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that 4 million uninsured, non-exempt Americans will refuse to get medical coverage and face the penalty in 2016.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Health Care Ruling: Business Winners, Losers

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For American businesses in general, and the health care industry in particular, the Supreme Court decision to uphold President Obama's overhaul law removes a great deal of uncertainty.

After months of legal challenges, the ruling gives hospitals, insurance companies, biotech firms and drug makers a clearer picture of what will happen when the major provisions of the law are expected to go into effect in 2014.

The legislation is a boon for much of the health care industry by making coverage affordable for tens of millions of uninsured Americans. But not every company will benefit. Medical equipment makers, for example, will be hit with a new tax on their sales.

There will be new fees as well as cuts in some forms of government reimbursement to health providers.

Beyond the health care industry, how will the Supreme Court ruling affect small- and medium-sized businesses?

"I would say there is actually a positive impact in that people know what to expect," said Brian Hamilton, CEO of the financial information firm Sageworks. "It's very important to remember the psychology of people who run privately held companies. If they have time to plan, the legislation is less important than the time horizon."

Hamilton said if the Supreme Court decision had led to confusion over the future of health care reform that would have been much more damaging to many firms than the cost of paying for a change that's been in the works for years.

"For the companies that have more than 50 employees who do not currently have coverage there will be an additional charge. It will be expensive, but they've been anticipating it."

On the markets today, stocks of major insurance companies dropped as analysts sorted through the ruling. UnitedHealth Group declined 3 percent, while WellPoint lost almost 6 percent. Overall, stocks were down today with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 127 points.

As far as hospital chains go, Hospital Corp. of America was up 7 percent. Quest Diagnostics, which runs laboratories, was up 2.5 percent.

The health care law will bring an influx of new patients, which will mitigate other negative trends for the hospital industry, such as a shift to quality of care measures, regulatory scrutiny over premium increases and government incentives to curb overall health care spending growth.

From a consumer standpoint, Thursday's decision is the biggest change in healthcare coverage of our lifetime, said Michael Thompson, principal in PwC's Human Resource Services Group.

The biggest benefits of the health care reform will go to lower-income families who do not have employer-sponsored health plans.

"People generally not covered by employers will be in a position of better access to coverage going forward," Thompson said.

Thompson said there will be a "tremendous" increase in the number of people covered and subsidized by the federal government.

The law establishes health insurances exchanges at the state level, but one of their roles is to administer subsidies offered by the federal government to households whose income is up to 400 percent of the poverty level, essentially the middle class.

Thompson said health care costs in many states will increase with the new rule requiring managed care providers to insure people with pre-existing conditions. But people eligible for subsidies will see costs decrease as premiums will be based on a percentage of their income, Thompson said.

Alex Morozov, Morningstar's director of health care research, said it will be "tough to speculate" how health care costs will change for consumers.

"States are going to exercise significant pressure on managed care companies regarding premium increases," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Walmart Case: Plaintiff Betty Dukes Tells Congress Supreme Court Got It Wrong

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Betty Dukes, the Walmart greeter who lost her bid last week to bring the largest employment discrimination class-action suit in history, told Congress on Tuesday that the Supreme Court got it wrong.

The decision to block the case from going forward, she said, will weaken women's rights to be protected against sex discrimination.

Last Tuesday, a 5-4 majority of the court ruled that nearly 1.5 million former and current Walmart employees could not go forward with their suit against the company because they failed to show that they had enough in common to bring the case. Justice Antonin Scalia said the women provided "no convincing proof" of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.

Dukes, the lead plaintiff in the case, argued that fellow plaintiffs will no longer be able to band together to bring suit, but instead will have to bring multiple challenges.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dukes said the majority's opinion means "many women will give up."

"It is too hard to go up against Walmart on their own," she said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, called the hearing to highlight recent Supreme Court decisions and examine their impact.

Leahy has been critical of the Walmart ruling, saying in his opening statement that the case "gives Walmart, and the rest of corporate America, a clear path to avoid company-wide sex discrimination suits: Have your lawyers write a non-discrimination policy, then allow your local branches to implement compensation decisions, and you can hide behind your policy regardless of what really happened to your employees across America."

But Andrew J. Pincus of the law firm Mayer Brown, who frequently argues business cases in the court, said Walmart plaintiffs presented the court with a "radical approach," failing to prove a critical component necessary for class-action certification: whether there are questions of law common to the class.

In his written testimony, Pincus said, "The Supreme Court majority was surely correct in concluding that the very slim body of evidence adduced by the plaintiffs simply was not sufficient to permit this gargantuan class action to move forward."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High Court Sides With Wal-Mart in Gender-Bias Lawsuit

Spencer Platt / Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday stopped one of the largest employment discrimination cases in history from going forward. The case was brought by six female Wal-Mart employees who said they had been paid less than men in comparable positions despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority.

The case had blossomed into a class action lawsuit involving hundreds of thousands of female employees. The court was unanimous in saying that the case should not have been certified by the lower courts because it failed to meet the certification requirements for seeking damages of monetary relief.

However, the court's five conservative justices went further. They found that the women also failed to demonstrate that there were questions of law common to the entire class of nearly 1.5 million female employees.

"The court rejects the notion that Wal-Mart had a policy of discrimination that could form any kind of fair basis for a civil-rights class-action case," the ruling stated.

The plaintiffs had claimed they could prove Wal-Mart discriminated against all women employees by statistics, by alleging that the company's corporate culture was suffused with gender stereotypes, and by pointing to the company's practice of allowing local managers wide discretion in hiring and promoting, which supposedly allowed those stereotypes to impact the lives of women employees.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the argument: "Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to biases of which they are unaware. The risk of discrimination is heightened when those managers are predominantly of one sex, and are steeped in a corporate culture that perpetuates gender stereotypes."

Scalia laughed this argument out of court, essentially. He called it "unbelievable," "worlds away from significant proof" of discrimination, and declared the court could "safely disregard" everything the plaintiffs' key expert had to say.

"In a company of Wal-Mart's size and scope," Scalia wrote, "it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common *direction.*" (emphasis added) "Merely showing that Wal-Mart's policy of discretion has produced an overall sex-based disparity does not suffice."

This is strongly pro-business ruling. It will make it harder for plaintiffs' lawyers to construct class actions in many fields, since what the court does here is tighten the law's demand that members of a class have suffered a truly, provably "common" wrong.

Walmart said the class action could include "every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade in any of Walmart's approximately 3,400 stores….the millions of class members collectively seek billions of dollars in monetary relief."

The action stems from a sexual discrimination suit filed by six women who worked in 13 stores who alleged they had been paid less than men in comparable positions, despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority.

In court papers, lawyers for the women said that the case needed to proceed as a class action because Walmart exercised a strong centralized corporate culture, and that class litigation "may be the only means of obtaining the broad injunctive relief necessary to address the allegedly discriminatory policies challenged."

The women were seeking injunctive relief, back pay and punitive damages.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Decisions to Watch: Walmart, Violent Video Games & More

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court term is winding down and the Justices have saved some of the most interesting cases for last. On Monday they will announce anywhere from one to four decisions. All the cases should be decided by the last week of June.

Walmart:  The Court will decide whether to allow one of the largest employment discrimination cases in history to go forward.  The case stems from a suit filed by six women who say they had been paid less than men in comparable positions despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority.

Violent Video Games:  The Court will decide whether states can forbid the sale of violent video games to children. At issue is a California law, never allowed to go into effect, that provides for up to a $1,000 fine to retailers who sell violent video games to minors. The law defines the games as depicting   “maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” The video game industry argues that the law violates free speech and that parents should be left to decide what their children buy. Americans spend more than $10 billion a year on video games.

Global Warming: The Court will decide whether a coalition of states can sue five of the largest power companies and force them to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. The states say the plants emit 650 million tons of carbon dioxide each year , and they seek to sue under the common law of public nuisance. The companies, joined by the Obama administration argue that the issue should be handled by the political branches of government and not by the courts.

Campaign Spending Law: In its first campaign finance case since Citizen's United, the Court will review an Arizona public financing law. A provision of the Clean Elections Act gives public money to candidates who choose to forgo private fundraising. Supporters of campaign finance reform believe that laws like the 1998 Clean Elections Act could ultimately reduce spending. But private groups say the law squelches the First Amendment rights of organizations seeking to have their message heard.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Winklevoss Twins Plan to Take Facebook Lawsuit to Supreme Court

Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Not one, not two, but now three court rulings have ordered Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twin Harvard graduates who claim Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea, to stick with the $65 million they were awarded in a 2008 legal settlement with the social networking company.

Still, the so-called "Winklevi" just won't give up.

After a federal appeals court said Monday that it would not reconsider the twins' latest settlement challenge, the brothers announced their intention to take the case to the Supreme Court.

But their tenacity may now be flying in the face of legal reality.  Though the twins' lawyers have set the Supreme Court in their sites, legal experts say the chances of the court actually hearing the case are slim to none.

Claiming Facebook defrauded them in the settlement agreement by misleading them about the company's worth, the Winklevosses have attempted to appeal the decision for the past three years.  The latest federal appeals decision affirms its own April ruling as well as the previous ruling of a California district court.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Global Warming Comes to the Supreme Court

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court took on the issue of global warming Tuesday in a case regarding whether a coalition of states can sue five of the country's largest power companies to force them to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

The states argue that the companies' plants emit 650 million tons of carbon dioxide each year -- 10 percent of the entire country's emissions. They seek to sue the power plants under the common law of public nuisance and are asking a district court judge to set standards for emissions.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the states have the legal right to bring the suit and whether the issue would be more properly handled by the political branches of government.

Peter D. Keisler, representing four of the power companies, argues that the states can't sue the companies for contributions to global climate change because "billions" of other independent sources have contributed to "more than a century of emissions."

"Every sector of the economy worldwide produces greenhouse gases," Keisler said in court.

He also argued that the state cannot sue under the doctrine of common law (the body of judge-made law that exists in the absence of statutes) because Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency are already working to address the issue.

But New York State Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, who argued on behalf of the states, said there is a firm basis for their effort to take action against the companies.

"This case rests on the longstanding fundamental authority of the states to protect their land, their natural resources and their citizens from air pollution emitted in other states," she said.

The states involved in the case are New York, Connecticut, California, Rhode Island, Iowa and Vermont.

The Chamber of Commerce filed a brief in support of the power companies, which include American Electric Power Company and Cinergy Corporation.

"The Chamber believes that common law suits such as this one, which seek to impose caps and reductions on carbon dioxide emissions in a piecemeal fashion on an arbitrary subset of U.S. industry are an especially ill-conceived and constitutionally illegitimate response," the brief said.

The court is expected to decide the case by this summer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Supreme Court Justices Seem Leery of Walmart Plaintiffs

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Several Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical Tuesday of the arguments made by an attorney on behalf of female plaintiffs that they should be allowed to band together and sue Walmart for sex discrimination.

The nation's largest private employer provided its managers with unchecked discretion that led to widespread sexual discrimination and women being paid less than men despite more seniority and higher performance, Joseph Sellers argued before the court.

But Walmart said a lower court was wrong to allow hundreds of thousands of current and former female employees to join forces and sue the company.

"The company has a very strong policy against discrimination and in favor of diversity, " lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued on behalf of the retail giant.

If the Supreme Court allows the case to go forward, it would be the largest employment discrimination class-action suit in history involving potentially billions of dollars.

Sellers said Walmart has a "very strong corporate culture" and that it allows its managers "broad discretion," which he called the "Walmart way."

But Justice Anthony Kennedy challenged Sellers, saying, "It's not clear to me what the unlawful policy that Walmart has adopted, under your theory of the case.

"Your complaint faces in two directions. Number one, you said this is a culture where...headquarters knows everything that's going on. Then in the next breath, you say, well, now these supervisors have too much discretion," he said.

Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with Kennedy. "I'm getting whipsawed here," he said.

"It's either the individual supervisors are left on their own, or else there is a strong corporate culture that tells them what to do."

The case stems from a sexual discrimination suit filed in 2001 by six female employees alleging they had been paid less than men in comparable positions in violation of Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination. As word spread, dozens and dozens of women joined the suit and a district court ruled the case could go forward on behalf of all similarly situated women.

The Supreme Court is not addressing the merits of the sex discrimination claims, only whether the women can go forward as a class.

Walmart argues that in order to qualify as a class, the women need to satisfy the so-called "commonality requirement."

"The commonality requirement is part of the rule of civil procedure governing class actions," class-action litigation expert Andrew Trask said. "It means that the women's claims have to be similar enough so that if you prove one woman's claim, you have proven every woman's claim."

Outside court Tuesday, Betty Dukes, one of the original plaintiffs who works as a greeter at Walmart, agreed.

"Walmart may be a big company, " she said, "but they're not big enough where they can't be challenged in a court of law. If you do wrong, then you should be held accountable, from the least of us to the greatest of us."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court to Hear Whether Millions of Female Employees Can Sue Walmart

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When Christine Kwapnoski of Concord, Calif., told her boss at a division of Walmart that she wanted a job promotion, she said, he told her to "blow the cobwebs off your makeup" and to "doll up" in order to advance.

Instead, she joined five other female employees and filed a sexual discrimination suit against the company 10 years ago alleging that women had been paid less than men in comparable positions in violation of Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.

As word of the suit spread, dozens and dozens of women joined in and a lower court ruled that the case could go forward on behalf of all current and former female employees since 1998.

Kwapnoski will be at the Supreme Court Tuesday when the justices hear arguments on whether the lower court was correct in allowing the women to band together to file their lawsuit, or whether they must file as individuals.

If the court rules in favor of the women and grants them "class certification," it will most likely become the largest employment class-action suit in history, involving potentially millions of women and billions of dollars.

A decision is likely to come in early summer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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