A Supreme Court decision last week could have a profound effect on the regulation of many aspects of the health care industry.

The Chevron decision, issued by the court in 1984, called for courts to defer to federal agency interpretation of ambiguous statutes if they found those interpretations to be reasonable.  The latest Supreme Court ruling, however, overturns that approach, calling for the courts to act independently when evaluating the appropriateness of agency interpretations and the regulations federal agencies implement in support of those interpretations.

The Washington Post explains that

Legal experts and health officials expect a gusher of litigation that will complicate the regulation of drugs, tobacco products and cutting-edge medical technologies. The administration of government health insurance programs could be further mired in lawsuits. And decades-old agency decisions may be newly vulnerable to challenges.

The implications are expected to be considerable.  While the court’s ruling does not immediately alter current regulations, a KFF issue brief suggests that

The decision will likely impede the ability of executive agencies to implement laws passed by Congress.  …while agency final rules will still have the force of law, there will be more of an incentive to challenge these rules in a court that now will not have to give any weight to agency decisions and expertise where statutes are not clear. More regulations will be overturned, placing a real barrier on implementing key health care protections such as prescription drug affordability in Medicare, eligibility rules for Medicaid beneficiaries, infectious disease control and public safety standards, as well as consumer protections for those in self-insured private employer-sponsored plans.

The New York Times notes that

The court’s ruling could affect how Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act insurance plans are administered, health law experts said, as opponents gain an opportunity to challenge how these huge programs operate.

The health care system is governed by elaborate regulations covering how hospitals operate, what providers are paid for medical services and how insurance companies are monitored by the government. Much of that regulation is grounded in interpretation of laws that date back decades. Major industries could be affected if rules are changed.

Challenges to current Medicare and Medicaid regulations could have a profound impact – both positive and negative – on community safety-net hospitals and Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals members.

Learn more about the court’s decision from the New York Times article “Here’s What the Court’s Chevron Ruling Could Mean in Everyday Terms;” the Washington Post report “How the Supreme Court has roiled U.S. health-care agencies;” the KFF issue brief “Supreme Court Decision Limiting the Authority of Federal Agencies Could Have Far-Reaching Impacts for Health Policy;” and the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case.