After the second day of arguments, the Supreme Court seems divided on the individual mandate part of Obamacare
In the second day of arguments and questions, the US Supreme Court seemed divided on whether the individual mandate, the key piece of the Obama health care plan around which everything else revolves, is legal or not, and whether it sets a dangerous precedent. There is one more day of arguments to go before the court begins to make its decision in a case that could make or break the plan that has been the defining act of Obama’s presidency.
So what exactly is being challenged in court? From CNN:
One part of the law stands as the focus of the judicial dispute and threatens to collapse the entire legislation. The “individual mandate” provision requires most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a financial penalty. Its purpose is to spread health care costs to a larger pool of individuals.
Various states and individuals have argued the Constitution’s Commerce Clause does not give government the authority to force Americans to purchase a commercial product such as health insurance they may not want or need. The opposing states equate such a requirement to a burdensome regulation of “inactivity.”
The Justice Department has countered by saying the changes do not amount to taxpayer financing or a new government-run program. Supporters say Congress wanted to ensure universal coverage by forcing insurance companies to expand coverage without bankrupting them. The individual mandate, they argue, will ensure enough money is in the system to benefit all Americans. Federal officials cite 2008 figures of $43 billion in uncompensated costs from the millions of uninsured people who receive health services, costs that are shifted to insurance companies and passed on to consumers.
On the one side, some Democrats wanted a truly universal and government healthcare program, much like Canada and many countries in Europe currently have. On the other side, some Republicans wanted either the ability for people to shop around for cheaper out-of-state insurance or lower cost private insurance. The current law, which has not yet gone into effect, is a compromise between both sides. With America’s enormous military budget and enormous Welfare and Social Security budget, both of which equally take up the large majority of US government expenditures, it doesn’t leave room for a program, that if paid for solely by the government, would be incredibly expensive.
So the plan that came out was that individuals would be required by law to have some sort of health coverage, thereby spreading the cost out to everyone, much in the same way that if you work at a large corporation, your insurance will be cheaper than if you work at a small company, because the cost is spread out much further, and it’s less of a risk to the insurance company.
And with this, the legal argument against Obamacare is that the federal government does not have the authority to force people to purchase a commercial product, whether it’s healthcare or toothpaste. And on the dissenting side of the Supreme Court so far, some Justices are worried that this might lead to a disturbing future precedent— that if the government can force people to purchase health care, what other commercial products could the government force people to buy?
I’m all for more people having healthcare, and I agree that some sort of privately funded public plan is a decent option in theory, especially if it’s made affordable for those who can least afford it, because it’s not like the uninsured are uninsured by choice for the most part, but I also agree with the dissenting Justices that forcing citizens to purchase a private commercial product is unsettling from a constitutional perspective.
Again, from CNN:
Tuesday’s argument was the biggest of the high court’s three-day marathon this week examining the limits of congressional authority. It was part legal seminar, part history lesson, with politics sprinkled throughout.
At least 17 members of Congress attended, along with several members of the Obama administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder. Administration officials, speaking on condition of not being identified, said they expect the high court to uphold the individual mandate despite the tough questioning Tuesday.
They noted conservative judges who asked similarly challenging questions as the issue made its way to the Supreme Court ended up upholding the mandate, and that Roberts targeted both sides with his queries.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who failed in her bid for the Republican presidential nomination to take on Obama in November, told tea party supporters near the Supreme Court building that the issue is freedom for individuals to decide their health care needs.
“If the federal government can tell you, when you are not doing anything, that you must do something, then the federal government can tell you anything,” Bachmann said, later adding a call for the Supreme Court to declare the mandate unconstitutional.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said he was “optimistic” the court would strike down the mandate because he saw Justice Kennedy was “highly skeptical.” “Can the federal government force Americans, free Americans to buy a product?” Johnson said. “That’s really what this boils down to. This is a very basic issue of freedom. I would say four conservative justices, three of them spoke and they were highly critical of this claim.”
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, called it the “most important decision probably in two or three generations.”
Earlier, a cancer patient said at a news conference held by supporters of the law that it saved her life.
Is the individual mandate in jeopardy? Bachmann, Tea Party against ‘Obamacare’ Explaining penalties for no insurance Supreme Court health care debate: Day 1 “Because President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, I get to keep my house, I won’t go bankrupt, my kids are going to get to go to college, and I am going to live,” Spike Dolomite Ward said to cheers.
The nine-member bench kept Tuesday’s two hours of arguments focused on the constitutional and policy implications.
At issue: May the federal government, under the Constitution’s commerce clause, regulate economic “inactivity”? Three federal appeals courts have found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, while another has said it is not, labeling it “breathtaking in its expansive scope.”
That “circuit split” all but assured that the Supreme Court would step in and decide the matter.
A coalition of 26 states, led by Florida, argues individuals cannot be forced to buy insurance, a “product” they may neither want nor need. The Justice Department has countered that since every American will need medical care at some point in their lives, individuals do not “choose” to participate in the health care market.