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July 6, 2012

Column #1,610

Health Care – Now a Major Political Issue

By Mike McManus

 

        Conservatives were disappointed and even angry that the Supreme Court decided last week that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which they dubbed Obamacare, was held constitutional by a 5-4 vote. 

        Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts voted not with his fellow conservatives, but with four liberals appointed by Democrats.

He explained that he voted with the liberals not because he thought the health care law was “good policy,” but “because there was not a constitutional reason to invalidate the individual mandate at the core of the law.  We possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments.

“Those decisions are entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.  It is not our job to protect people from the consequences of their political choices.”

  ACA requires that everyone have health insurance, or be forced to pay a “penalty” that rises to 2.5% of income. Roberts agreed with the conservatives that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause prohibited Congress from creating such a penalty:

“The Framers gave Congress the power to (ital) regulate (close ital) commerce, not to (ital) compel (cl ital) it,” he said.

How, then, did Roberts uphold the law?  He simply called the penalty “a tax” which Congress does have the authority to impose.    

The four conservatives filed a bitter dissent, noting that a penalty and a tax “are mutually exclusive.” The law called it a penalty 18 times. They argued that a tax has to originate in the House of Representatives, the legislative body, most accountable to the people, who face an election every two years.

It did not, and would probably have never been passed if it did. “The Court is free to interpret legislation but not to rewrite it,” quipped Peggy Nance, President of Concerned Women for America.

However, with the constitutional issue settled, the public has a clear political choice in November.  It can vote for Obama or Romney who promises to begin to repeal and replace Obamacare on Day 1.

Robert Samuelson, an economic columnist with the Washington Post, wrote before the Court’s decision that Obama “committed a colossal error of judgment in making health care a centerpiece of his first term.”

“It increases uncertainty and decreases confidence when recovery from the
Great Recession requires more confidence and less uncertainty.”  For example, 30% of employers might drop health insurance of employees and pay fines.  That would save them a lot of money, but require millions to buy insurance they now get free. The government would subsidize the purchase for incomes up to $92,200, but that only widens the deficit.

The law also discourages job creation by raising the cost of hiring. Only firms with 50 employees are required to buy health insurance, so many will keep their employees to 49 workers or less.

Samuelson argues that “Uncontrolled health spending is the U.S. system’s main problem – and ACA makes it worse.” The law gives 30 million people health care, which will only drive up costs for everyone.  Medicare and Medicaid already consume a quarter of federal spending and is headed to a third. ACA only adds to it.

ACA will cost $1.76 trillion over the next decade. Some of that is offset by tax increases and proposed cuts of Medicare (which seems unlikely). America is already spending 40% more than it takes in taxes.

Perhaps most important is that the new law discriminates against the young in favor of the old.  Remember when you were 25 or 30?  Did you have health insurance? Probably not, assuming you were not likely to have cancer or a heart attack. ACA forces the young to not only buy insurance, but an expensive version, to bring in the revenue needed to subsidize the sick and elderly.

One conservative observer commented, “I think the Supreme Court ruling may have awakened a sleeping giant.  Obama may have won the battle in the Supreme Court, but the war is yet to be waged for November.” 

True, but Romney has muddled the tax issue. He could campaign against the new Obama tax, but he first called it a “penalty,” he did in Massachusetts.  Two days later, on the Fourth of July, he called it a tax.

Sen. Santorum warned us about this.

Copyright by Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist.

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