What every ObGyn should know about Supreme Court rulings in the recent term

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How has the Supreme Court decided cases involving restrictions on abortion, reimbursements for service for Medicare patients, the statute of limitations for Federal False Claims Acts, pharmaceutical liability, and other important cases of its 2018-2019 term?



The most recently concluded term of the US Supreme Court, which began on October 1, 2018, yielded a number of decisions of interest to health care professionals and to ObGyns in particular. Although the term was viewed by some observers as less consequential than other recent terms, a review of the cases decided paints a picture of a more important term than some commentators expected.

When the term began, the Court had only 8 justices—1 short of a full bench: Judge Brett Kavanaugh had not yet been confirmed by the Senate. He was confirmed on October 6, by a 50-48 vote, and Justice Kavanaugh immediately joined the Court and began to hear and decide cases.

Increasingly, important decisions affect medical practice

From the nature of practice (abortion), to payment for service (Medicare reimbursement), resolution of disputes (arbitration), and fraud and abuse (the federal False Claims Act), the decisions of the Court will have an impact on many areas of medical practice. Organized medicine increasingly has recognized the significance of the work of the Court; nowhere has this been more clearly demonstrated than with amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed by medical organizations.

Amicus curiae briefs. These briefs are filed by persons or organizations not a party to a case the Court is hearing. Their legitimate purpose is to inform the Court of 1) special information within the expertise of the amicus (or amici, plural) or 2) consequences of the decision that might not be apparent from arguments made by the parties to the case. Sometimes, the Court cites amicus briefs for having provided important information about the case.

Filing amicus briefs is time-consuming and expensive; organizations do not file them for trivial reasons. Organizations frequently join together to file a joint brief, to share expenses and express to the Court a stronger position.

Three categories of health professionals file amicus briefs in ObGyn-related cases:

  • Major national organizations, often representing broad interests of health care professions or institutions (the American Medical Association [AMA], the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Hospital Association [AHA]), have filed a number of amicus briefs over the years.
  • Specialty boards increasingly file amicus briefs. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have filed briefs related to abortion issues.
  • In reproductive issues, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations have been active amicus filers—frequently taking positions different than, even inconsistent with, amicus briefs filed by major specialty boards.

Amicus briefs filed by medical associations provide strong clues to what is important to clinicians. We have looked at such briefs to help us identify topics and cases from the just-concluded term that can be of particular interest to you.

Continue to: Surveying the shadow docket...


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