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Staff Editorial: Supreme Court Health-care Law Debate

Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012

Updated: Sunday, April 1, 2012 23:04

Last week the Supreme Court began its review of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s groundbreaking yet controversial health-care law which was passed by Congress in 2010.

Although, if upheld by the Supreme Court, the long-debated legislation would not completely go into effect until 2014, the law is said to have extended and provided coverage for millions of underinsured and uninsured Americans, but in spite of its seemingly beneficial effects, the law may be overturned due to questions surrounding its constitutionality.

However, in an election year, the debate seems to be less centered around the needs of the American people than it is in the potential fallout if President Obama’s premiere domestic victory is taken back.

According to The Washington Post, the primary question up for debate is whether or not the “minimum coverage provision” of the law—which has widely come to be known as the “individual mandate”—,which would require that everyone who can afford it purchase “a minimally comprehensive” health insurance policy, or else pay a penalty, is constitutional.

People “who can afford it” include those for whom minimum coverage would not exceed eight percent of their monthly income and whose income is above the poverty line. The Post also explains that the much-debated fine that is in place for those who do not purchase health insurance is minimal and has no criminal, or even enforceable, penalty.

Yet, many of the more conservative Supreme Court justices, including Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts, have adopted the question that many political opponents have raised about the individual mandate: “Can the federal government force you to eat your broccoli?”

Just as opponents argue that the health-care law, the individual mandate, in particular, violates the personal choice and freedom of Americans, the conservative justices are suggesting that the requirements within the law may be beyond the powers of the federal government to exercise. In short, the federal government can’t force citizens to purchase something.

Supporters of the law argue that the purchase of health-care is different because if individuals choose not to purchase it and they report to an emergency room when they get sick, according to the law, those individuals could not be turned away and would still receive treatment, thereby shifting the cost of their treatment to someone else anyway—tax payers.

In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman points out the flaw in the popular “broccoli argument” saying, “When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it,” which is what would happen if people who choose not to purchase healthcare go to the emergency room and drive healthcare costs up, making it unaffordable for many others. It is also what could happen if the Supreme Court chooses to strike down the law and make health-care unavailable to the 40 million people who need it.

Krugman also questions why if requiring people to pay a tax to cover other people’s health insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) is not overly intrusive or unconstitutional, then why would requiring them to purchase health-insurance be? These distinctions also make the debate seem more political than practical.

Perhaps the most important issue being discussed is whether or not the entire health-care law can survive or be as effective if the individual mandate is declared unconstitutional.

Among other things, the overturning of the healthcare law would mean that young adults like us would no longer be able to remain on our parents’ health-care insurance until we are 26. The Supreme Court is expected to declare its final ruling in June. Until then, like much of the rest of the American people, we are left to wonder what will happen to us if politics overrules the public interest.

Our View: The Supreme Court’s ruling on the health-care law should put politics aside and consider the needs of the American people.


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