Is It a TKO for Obama-Care?

In numerous blogs we’ve covered a variety of aspects of the monumental piece of legislation passed a few years back called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called by many “Obama-Care”. One aspect we’ve been covering closely is the litigation that has wound its way through the court system and landed at the feet of the Supreme Court, which began hearing the case yesterday.

In yesterday’s blog we discussed Monday’s arguments before the Supreme Court which covered whether the Court should even be ruling on the case at this juncture. This argument was based upon an old law, called the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits ruling on any tax case until the tax has been assessed and paid. Some have called the penalty proscribed under the ACA for uninsured people a tax. It seemed that the justices didn’t buy this argument and that they feel free to rule on the constitutionality of the ACA now, not later.

Which brings us to the crux of the argument before the Court: is the individual mandate that everyone has to buy health insurance a violation of the Constitution or allowable under the broad rights of Congress to regulate interstate commerce? This was argued for over two hours by both sides yesterday.

The plaintiff’s argument is that such a requirement completely oversteps the interstate commerce regulation. Their point is that if the government can mandate you to buy this insurance product, they can mandate you to buy whatever the majority in Congress feels is important for an individual to purchase. The defendants (the Administration) counter with the fact that everyone needs health care services at some point, so everyone is already buying this service in some manner and this mandate is just a regulation on how that service should be purchased that will be best for the overall economy. This, again, was countered by the example that everyone buys food, and broccoli is one of the best foods for you, so can the government mandate that everyone buys broccoli or get fined? Or since everyone dies, can the government declare what method of corpse handling is required – i.e. everyone must be cremated since we don’t want to waste land for graves.

The conservative side of the Court didn’t seem to buy the Administration’s argument. As Justice Kennedy said, “You are changing the relationship of the individual to the government.”

Liberal justices pointed out that those who don’t have insurance and get free care are forcing those of us who have insurance and pay for our services to also pay for the freeloaders. This is certainly factually true but, as the other side argues, mandating everyone to purchase health care insurance isn’t necessarily the best solution to the problem and opens up doors for further government intervention and control of what people purchase.

Given that Justice Kennedy is often the swing vote between the conservatives and liberals, it seems that we are heading for a 5-4 decision overturning the mandate.

The next question, which is being argued today, is that if the mandate is not allowed, will other aspects of the law still be allowed or will they also fall by the wayside. It will be interesting to see how these points are argued. In any case it will be a serious blow to President Obama and the Democratic party if the mandate is struck down, and this could affect the outcome of the Presidential election this November.


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