‘Obamacare’ At The Mercy Of The Supreme Court

Business owner Theresa Browngold protests in front of the US supreme court in support of the healthcare act last week. Photograph: Charles E Shoemaker/Corbis

If Americans are promised not just liberty but life and happiness, is there not a constitutional right to affordable healthcare?

There is something surreal, absurd even, about the US supreme court’s recent three-day hearings on President Obama’s healthcare law. In essence, nine people, all appointed by presidents of the United States and not elected by nor accountable to the American people, will have the power, come June, to determine whether the president’s landmark 2010 legislation will stand as is, be ruled unconstitutional and done away with entirely, or be ruled unconstitutional in part and so be hobbled and in doubt.

It is surreal and absurd that we are even having this conversation again, given that the crux of the matter is that 50 million Americans do not have health insurance. Wasn’t the point to make sure the richest and most powerful nation on the planet could protect its own people, as other nations do, including Canada, our neighbor to the north?

But in the world of American politics, it seems anything can become a political football at any given moment, and in this presidential campaign cycle, healthcare coverage has re-emerged as a lightning-rod issue, and one that will force its way into the election debates regardless of how the supreme court rules. For sure, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate, is chomping at the bit, his ever-changing political mind glossing over the fact that “Obamacare” is not only modeled after a law he guided through in Massachusetts when governor, but that both his and President Obama’s healthcare teams were advised by Professor Jonathan Gruber, widely considered a leading expert on healthcare laws. Yet, when one aspires to the highest office in the land, selective amnesia seems to be the order of the day.

The root of the problem, so we hear, is this thing called the “individual mandate”, the central provision of Obamacare that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance. In its courtroom arguments, the Obama administration says the purpose of the mandate is to crack down on “free riders” – uninsured people who go to the hospital and can’t pay their bills, passing the cost of their care on to taxpayers and people with insurance.

Chief Justice John Roberts wondered aloud, however, why can’t Americans satisfy the mandate with a policy that covers only very serious care? The current healthcare law offers much more progressive benefits, including services like maternity care, and it is argued that many will never need that. I suppose we are forgetting that half the American population are women and many of them do, in fact, have children.

The individual mandate’s other grand scheme is to bring younger and healthier people into the system, offsetting the cost of requiring insurance companies to cover sick people. In that context, the policy is more geared to the needs of the insurance industry and market.

Read the whole story:  theguardian

Conversations