The Supreme Court Hearing on Obamacare
This coming week the Supreme Court will hear three days of oral arguments; the length of the arguments indicates what a monumental case this is. The last time the court designated 6 hours of arguments was in 1966. As patriotslog has previously written, the universal health care system is not a good idea. On paper and in theory it works out splendidly; however, in practice, it never produces the results envisioned by the creators. It is expected that the issue at the forefront of the case in the Supreme Court is the issue of the individual mandate for health insurance coverage the law created. Does the government have the power to force each citizen to purchase health insurance, whether they feel a need for it or not? This issue has largely defined the Obamacare argument, though it is only a small part of the effect carried by the legislation. To be fair, the Affordable Care Act legislation does provide some needed reforms to health care which largely benefit the American people. Among these are the legislation to make illegal the practice of denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition; premium hikes being subject to review; a mandated percentage of revenue for health insurance providers being spent on care, as opposed to advertising or management; premiums cannot be higher for women than for men, as they have been in recent history; and premiums cannot be raised for individuals who develop a disability such as asthma or diabetes. One can debate the fairness of these provisions as well as the need for them; but with the price of health care continuing to rise it is almost unanimous that something must be done. President Obama feels these provisions are the answer the public needs.
Being beneficial to the public, however, does not make a law constitutional. Many feel the law will be deemed unconstitutional by the court because polls have shown wide spread opposition to the law; those hoping for this do not understand the Constitution. If a law is to be repealed because of massive unpopularity, as is the case with Obamacare, the Constitution outlines the path for this to be through the Congress. By public election the citizens of the United States would be responsible for repealing the legislation by voting into office representatives who promise to repeal that particular legislation; this is not the job of the Supreme Court. The individual mandate is not the only reason to oppose Obamacare; in fact, it is ironic that the Republicans disdain the individual mandate as much as they do because it was originally a republican idea. Even the Heritage Foundation actively supported an individual mandate once upon a time. That all changed with the election of President Obama. Bitter over the unfair treatment of President Bush by Democrats, the Republicans chose to do the same for President Obama. Even still, there is opposition to the bill because it will require dramatic raises in tax revenue to support the plan, and will raise healthcare costs. While higher taxes are not necessarily bad in the current financial citation of our nation, increasing taxes for any other reason than to cover our deficit is not needed. Creating a larger expense which would require more taxation just to cover the expense is never warranted unless American citizens largely support it. This is not the case here. However, this is not a matter for the Supreme Court, but for voters and Congress.
If any justice on the Supreme Court were to vote either for or against upholding Obamacare simply because they support or oppose the system of healthcare created by the law, then they have fundamentally violated their duty. It does not matter what a Supreme Court Justice thinks about the Affordable Care Act, their job, as outlined by the Constitution, is to determine whether or not the law–particularly the individual mandate–violates the Constitution and the rights of Americans. Any Justice who votes based on any other guidelines than this, on any case they hear, needs to be removed from their position. Sometimes the vote needs to conflict with what a Justice believes should happen because it is not a question of what should happen, but a question of what is and is not within the bounds of the Constitution.
The individual mandate was put into the legislation to create a broader customer base, thus providing more revenue for the insurance companies. The principal behind this action is that an increase in demand will lower prices. Supporters of the law feel that if an individual mandate is upheld the revenue created by everyone paying insurance premiums would be substantial enough that insurance companies could lower their prices due to the additional revenue from healthy people, many of whom choose not to buy insurance right now, paying premiums. This is a sort of shared sacrifice model to help deflate prices overall. The counter from those who oppose Obamacare is that creating a more competitive model will drive down prices. The government will also argue that Congress has the power to regulate insurance under the interstate commerce clause. This is a puzzling argument because current law states that you cannot buy health insurance across state lines; the only exception to this being if you work for a company based out of another state and you choose to take their health benefits. For this reason health insurance is not interstate commerce. Certainly if one is hurt while traveling, their medical care is interstate commerce, but that is care, not insurance. The transaction occurs across state lines, true, but that is a result of consequence, not commerce. Allowing insurance companies across the country to bid for the coverage of potential customers would create the same competitive market we see with auto insurance commercials. If every auto insurance switch can save a customer money based on competition, the potential is also there for the health insurance market, it is simply not being explored.
One more argument it is anticipated the government will make in defense of an individual mandate–and perhaps their most desperate at that–is that because every person born in the United States will at some point in their life require health care, mandating coverage for health care is not a radical law in the first place. Never mind the fact that the Supreme Court was not established to determine if a law is radical, but rather, whether or not it is constitutional; this argument has enough failed logic as to render it useless regardless. People born in the United States will, at some point in their lives, require food, clothing, and shelter. Does this mean that the government has the right to mandate all homeless people rent an apartment, and get on food stamps? The fact that this is not financially feasible for them only means their livelihood would be paid for through taxing the rest of the nation. Homelessness is most certainly a tragedy, and patriotslog absolutely encourages charitable donations on behalf of the less fortunate; however, taking away their choice and forcing them into what would most likely be a substandard government housing project is not the constitutional way to handle this situation. Furthermore, in the United States more people have or have used internet and television than health insurance. Does the commonality and availability of this technology translate to a need for the government to mandate their purchases? It simply does not make sense. The government can regulate what light bulbs we can buy because of the environmental standards and the cost on our natural resources, but they cannot mandate that we buy light bulbs or use electricity. This same distinguished court ruled only two years ago in the Citizens United case–and correctly so, even if it brought about harmful consequences–that the way individuals spend their money (it was ruled that corporations are people as well) is a basic right of expression, and therefore speech. How then can the high court of the United States now rule that it is constitutional for the government to force us citizens to spend our money, thereby mandating their speech? The individual mandate is a direct repression of the court established definition of free speech. The principle would be identical if the government mandated every person in our country to recite the Pledge of Allegiance word for word, regardless of whether or not you fundamentally disagree with “under God”. The government cannot mandate expression because that is not freedom of expression. No matter how you feel about Obamacare, no matter how you feel about health care reform; the government has the ability to regulate health insurance without violating our constitutional rights, but they cannot force us to buy it. Even if one does not agree with a health care reform it does not make it unconstitutional; even if one does agree with the Affordable Care Act it does not make the individual mandate constitutional. It is the constitutional definition of the job of a Supreme Court Justice to understand this. Next week we will see whether or not they do.
25 March, 2012
Posted on March 25, 2012, in Constitutional Law, Patriotslog Articles, Politics and tagged Citizens United, Congress, Constitution, First Amendment, free speech, health insurance, healthcare, individual mandate, money is speech, Obamacare, patient protection and affordable care act, supreme court. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.