Heather Mallory, managing editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law presents a Q&A with JHPPL editor Colleen Grogan and section editor Harold Pollack about the latest news from the Supreme Court, exciting new articles in JHPPL, and the exhilaration of being a scholar in health policy right now.
In the world of scholarly publishing, editors are not usually under pressure to keep pace with the 24-hour news cycle. But ever since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, more commonly known as Obamacare), scholars and editors in the field of health policy have discovered that the line between news and scholarship is not always so distinct. Recently, for example, the Supreme Court surprised many health policy analysts by deciding to hear King v. Burwell, a case that centers on a provision of the Affordable Care Act that limits subsidies to state-established exchanges. Currently low- and middle-income people who buy health insurance through state-run and federally run exchanges are able to benefit from these tax subsidies. King is one of a set of cases (including Halbig v. Burwell, Pruitt v. Burwell, and Indiana v. IRS) that represent a new challenge to the legality of those subsidies. The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law had accepted two articles for the Report on Health Reform Implementation section of the June issue on these very cases. With the announcement that the Supreme Court will hear King, these articles are suddenly news, and we are so convinced of their immediate importance that we decided to post them in unedited manuscript form and open access.
Presenting the argument against the subsidies are Jonathan H. Adler and Michael F. Cannon in “The Halbig Cases: Desperately Seeking Ambiguity in Clear Statutory Text.”
Presenting the argument for the subsidies is Nicholas Bagley in “Three Words and the Future of the Affordable Care Act.”
There is so much excitement about this case and these articles in the news and on social media that we wanted to reach out to Colleen M. Grogan, the editor of JHPPL and of the special section where the articles will appear, and Harold A. Pollack (@haroldpollack), the editor of the Point-Counterpoint section who brought these pieces to the journal, for some insider context and commentary on the articles and the field in general.
Why are these two pieces so important? What do they do that we’re not seeing elsewhere?
Pollack: We are fortunate to have three of the nation’s absolute top experts weighing in, right at the moment this case is at the Supreme Court. Jonathan Adler and Michael Cannon are the two principal proponents of this suit. Nicholas Bagley is one of their most cogent critics.
The underlying substantive issue is incredibly important. The Halbig/King set of cases represent a potential threat to the survival of ACA in half of the United States. In the absence of subsidies, the new marketplaces cannot function effectively. There is a real possibility that they will simply implode through the loss of younger and healthier consumers. These cases also exemplify the deep polarization of the judiciary. Most liberal and moderate legal experts consider this suit without merit. Conservative legal experts take a different view. And here it is, at the Supreme Court.
Beyond the immediate stakes: The issues of statutory interpretation are both intricate and important. How should judges interpret huge, complex legislation? How should judges and executive agencies interpret awkward or ambiguous language, or stray bits of legislative language that do not readily fit the larger purposes and the other provisions of such a law?
Why did you decide to publish articles that represent both sides of this issue? Is that unusual in an academic journal?
Grogan: The Point-Counterpoint format, but also the attempt to be timely, is unusual for an academic journal. Because JHPPL attempts to look at important health policy issues deeply, we thought it important to provide both sides of this issue.
Pollack: As I mentioned, the issues are both important and intricate. Both sides deserve a full hearing within a judicious and rigorous forum that rises above the shouting on social media and the op-ed pages. It is especially gratifying that all three scholars trusted JHPPL to fairly present their briefs.
Why is JHPPL the right place for this kind of debate?
Pollack: JHPPL is a premier health policy journal that has played a particularly important role in understanding the political divisions, legal implications, and programmatic complexities of the ACA.
Grogan: Yes, and because JHPPL has a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to publish—open access for everyone to read–timely essays on the implementation of health care reform, JHPPL is especially well suited to weigh in on this important issue.
Pollack: Also, our audience is particularly well trained at the interface of political science, policy analysis, and legal scholarship. They are well equipped to understand what is at stake and are especially anxious to hear the best arguments on both sides of this divisive case.
How is the ACA affecting the journal and the field as a whole?
Pollack: ACA is the most important, contested, and complex health policy legislation since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid. The conditions of its passage, its implementation successes and failures, and its continuing political conflict have reshaped health politics and health policy for the coming decades.
What is it like to be a scholar working in health policy right now?
Grogan: It is incredibly exciting and exhausting! These health policy debates are about our deepest values, about who and how people should have access to health care, on the one hand, while practitioners in state and federal agencies are attempting to convert the promises of the ACA into a reality, on the other. As political scholars, we seek to make sense of these contradictions. As health policy analysts, we seek to understand the outcomes of the ACA.
Pollack: We are living in an incredible historic moment. The stakes could hardly be higher for millions of people, and we are watching policy makers put to the test many of the deepest assumptions and findings of both political science and health policy research.
Thanks to both Colleen Grogan and Harold Pollack for their insights!