How will the US Supreme Court’s Decision on the Chevron Deference Impact Healthcare?

By | June 11, 2024

The US Supreme Court’s decision on Chevron deference isn’t merely a legal technicality, it’s a potential game-changer for healthcare. The implications could be profound, potentially reshaping healthcare policy and regulation as we know it. This situation warrants our attention and understanding.

Congress sets the law of the land and federal agencies were created to implement those laws to improve citizens’ lives. The extent of the authority these agencies must interpret laws and create policies is now being questioned. Chevron deference, a legal doctrine established in 1984, grants federal agencies the flexibility to interpret laws to maximize their impact amidst changing circumstances. The belief is that these agencies possess the subject matter expertise necessary to translate laws into action that is best suited for society.

Concerns arise when this flexibility and power within agencies leads to policies perceived as inconsistent with the laws passed by Congress. Many believe the judicial system should adjudicate these differences. This debate is particularly important for healthcare, impacting many agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Cases before the Supreme Court might overturn Chevron deference in favor of judicial arbitration of congressional intent, monumentally altering the regulatory landscape.

Since 1984, Chevron deference has protected the discretionary rules laid out by agencies like the FDA and EPA. However, the Supreme Court’s recent major questions doctrine (MQD) ruling in 2022 states that congressional authorization must be explicit for agencies to create rules of major significance and the courts must decide what defines a major significance if challenged. This shift could limit agencies’ ability to adapt and implement necessary regulations swiftly.

Public health and modern medicine heavily rely on the work of administrative agencies. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC’s guidance was crucial. The FDA’s efforts to improve clinical trial effectiveness by ensuring diverse representation in research is another example. Regulations concerning medical debt protection, overseen by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and EPA regulations aimed at protecting public health all hinge on agency expertise.

The potential shift away from Chevron deference raises concerns about the balance between scientific expertise and regulatory power. Critics argue that without deference, industry interests might overshadow scientific integrity. Others feel that agency expertise is sometimes biased or based on unfounded truths. The challenge is managing this complexity without swinging to extremes.

The outcome of these Supreme Court cases could profoundly impact healthcare policy and regulation. Our goal should be to strike a balance between extremes, ensuring true science drives policy considerations, not selective interpretation of science to support preconceived notions. As professionals and scientists, we must adhere to evidence-based ideals, regardless of the evidence’s direction. This balanced approach is not just crucial; it’s our responsibility to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of healthcare policy and regulation.