With today’s orders list, the Supreme Court issued two substantive opinions, two per curiam reversals (applying one of today’s more substantive opinions), and formally accepted a certified question from the Fifth Circuit about exemplary damages.
, No. 13-0199
A summary will be added in the next few days
, No. 13-0573
In the past decade, it only seemed that the Texas Supreme Court had already decided every permutation of health-care liability claim and every challenge to an arbitration clause. What happens when one case presents both — a challenge to the Texas law that restricts doctors and other health-care providers who might try to insert arbitration clauses in their contracts?
The Texas statute is Section 74.451 of the CIvil Practice and Remedies Code, which imposes some strict requirements on any arbitration clause between a health-care provider and a patient. There was no dispute in this case that the defendant nursing home (Fredericksburg) failed to meet those requirements, so if the Texas law applied, the arbitration clause it demanded of patients would be unenforceable. On its side, the Federal Arbitration Act generally preempts state laws such as this one that impose heightened requirements on the validity of arbitration clauses, at least for contracts involving interstate commerce.1
The wrinkle here is that Congress has generally permitted states, not the federal government, to take the lead in regulating insurance. Within the upside-down world of insurance, the doctrine of federal preemption yields (by virtue of the McCarran-Ferguson Act or "MFA") so that insurance-specific state laws can, in that limited sphere, be supreme over a generally applicable federal law.
The Texas Supreme Court's opinion focused, therefore, on whether Section 74.451 was a law that fit within the MFA. The question is whether it was a "law enacted by [the] State for the purpose of regulating the business of insurance." 15 U.S.C. §1012(b). If so, it could survive preemption. If not, it would be preempted.
The bulk of the Court's analysis focuses on legislative "purpose." Looking at the statute as a whole, the Court concluded that its purpose is not direclty related to the relationship between insurance companies and their insureds ("the business of insurance"). The Court acknowledged that one of the broader goals was to lower health-care costs by, among other things, lower premiums for malpractice insurance. But the Court concluded that was too attenuated to satisfy the U.S. Supreme Court's test. (The U.S. Supreme Court has distinguished the "business of insurance" from the "business of insurance companies," which basically asks whether the regulation is about paperwork or profits. If the goal is to reduce an insurer's costs and maybe get a trickle-down reduction in premiums, then it's the latter category and too attenuated.) And even zooming to focus just on Section 74.451, the picture would be the same. That provision says nothing about insurance directly but instead talks about the relationship between doctor and patient.
Section 74.451 is, the Court held, preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act for any health-care contracts that affect interstate commerce.
So, does a health-care provider now have to choose between demanding arbitration and the procedural protections they fought so hard for in 2003 (with mandatory expert reports and interlocutory appeals)? Maybe not. With this new hybrid category of arbitration and health-care liabilty appeals, a whole new world of permutations beckons. Who will be the first defendant to wait for the expert report deadline, file an interlocutory appeal challenging its adequacy, and after losing that appeal, demand arbitration — perhaps triggering a second interlocutory appeal?
That may be nearly every defendant of any size, in our era of third-party-payor health care. As the Court explains, even accepting Medicare payments can bring a provider within the bounds of the FAA. ↩