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Opinion analysis: Justices strike a blow against state health-care data collection


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Ronald Mann Contributor

Posted Wed, March 2nd, 2016 11:02 am

Opinion analysis: Justices strike a blow against state health-care data collection

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company barely even alludes to the backdrop of the case, which involves health-care databases that states use to help contain health-care costs under the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the question before the Court is whether Vermont’s statute obligating all health insurers to provide data for their database violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which preempts any state law that may “relate to” an ERISA plan.


Although the opinion spends several pages summarizing the terms of the statute and the Court’s prior ERISA cases, it offers only the most cursory analysis of the preemption question in dispute. On that point, the Court has three specific things to say. First, it spends several paragraphs cataloguing the various recordkeeping requirements ERISA and the Department of Labor have imposed on ERISA plans. Second, it characterizes those requirements as “plain[ly]” “central,” “essential,” and “integral aspects” of ERISA. Third, because “[d]iffering, or even parallel, regulations from multiple jurisdictions could create wasteful administrative costs,” the statute is preempted (my emphasis). The key point is that the regulations “could” create wasteful burdens, because in point of fact the Vermont regulation does not create such burdens: it calls for data in a standardized format the insurer already uses. Scissors-32x32.png

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