President Barack Obama signing the Healthcare Law in 2010
Now it’s up to the U.S. Supreme Court to do the right thing for all the people: give them justice in the form of universal healthcare.
In his first month in office, President Barack Obama said, “Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.” And he told Congress, “We are the only democracy … that allows such hardships (no insurance for pre-existing conditions) for millions of its people.” He then went on to say, “It has been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for healthcare reform, and ever since, nearly every president and Congress have attempted to meet this challenge in some way.”
Then as president, he went about fixing it. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Healthcare Care Reform Act and he signed. It became the law of the land–his signature achievement during his first year in office. Then came a barrage of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law.
At the end of his first year in the White House, President Obama laid out ten key points about his health plan. Number one stated: ‘If you already have insurance through Medicare, Medicaid or your employer, this plan will not require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.’
Number ten stated: ‘The plan will reform our medical malpractice laws to help rid the system of frivolous lawsuits.
After numerous challenges had run their course in the states’ courts and the (federal) appeal courts, the case (the individual lawsuits combined) arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court: United States Department of Health and Human Services v. State of Florida and National Federation of Independent Business v. Kathleen Sebelius (loosely referred to as ‘Obamacare’ or the healthcare law). Many state attorneys-general and other supporting parties have filed amicus (friends of the court) briefs in support of the law–including the attorney general of California, Kamala Harris.
Last week after three days of oral arguments in the Supreme Court, relative to the challenges to the health care law, a tense atmosphere settled over Washington–and indeed throughout the nation–awaiting the justices’ (ruling) final decision. After the marathon public debate, the justices appear to signal a conservative/liberal (5/4) divide that threatens to overturn President Obama’s sweeping healthcare reform bill. The key question facing the justices is the individual mandate, the most controversial part of the law, and if ruled unconstitutional, many are wondering, would it void the entire law?
But what is the individual mandate? That part of the law requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a financial penalty. It is based on the Congressional power to regulate interstate commerce; and that is the main focus of its critics. The states that challenged the law in federal court argued that the power to “regulate” commerce does not include the power to penalize inaction (those who do not buy health insurance). Some lower courts have agreed, and some disagreed.
Here’s a sampling of what some have said about the law while the Supreme Court ponders the decision, and the nation awaits.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass’ statement on second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act: “Two years ago today, the Obama Administration helped millions of American families gain access to lifesaving medical care when the Affordable Care Act was passed into law. Now, our nation is finally able to give its citizens the basic human right of being healthy without spending every penny you earn.
“The facts are clear–the Affordable Care Act has helped 86 million Americans gain access to cancer-screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, 180 million people cannot be denied healthcare because they are sick, 26 million youth are able to remain on their parents coverage until they reach the age of 26, and our nation’s 47 million seniors will benefit from a stronger Medicare program. No matter what side of the aisle you agree with, the Affordable Care Act benefits our neighbors, friends and family therefore I am proud to recognize this achievement as a day to be commemorated in our country.”
Constitutional law professor and law school dean, Erwin Chemerinsky stated: “The potential consequences socially, legally and politically are enormous. The outcome could very well shape how health care is provided in this country for decades to come. If the court invalidates this law–and one of the issues is whether the entire act should be struck down–it will be the first time since the New Deal that a major federal regulatory statute has been declared unconstitutional. And there is little doubt that whatever the court decides could have an impact on the outcome of the November presidential election….”
At a recent Medicaid press conference–while the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments–Dr. Toni Lewis, SEIU Healthcare Chair, made the following remarks about Medicaid & the Affordable Care Act: “Today is a critical day for Medicaid in Washington, DC and around the country. As we stand here preparing to hear stories from people who depend on Medicaid every day for their healthcare, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments against expanding Medicaid to another 17 million people over the next few years.
“These arguments aren’t based on Medicaid’s health outcomes among children or seniors; they aren’t based on testimony from those who have received services from Medicaid; they aren’t even based on data that shows how well Medicaid controls costs compared to private insurance.
“That’s because the challenge to Medicaid in the Supreme Court isn’t based on what’s good for our health, it’s just based on politics and posturing. In fact, it looks a lot like the attacks we see on Medicare and Medicaid in the latest Republican House budget. The Ryan Republican budget would cut Medicaid for millions more seniors, children, people with disabilities and shift the burden of providing health care for them to middle class families and states. It would also repeal the Affordable Care Act and end Medicare as we know it…
“As a doctor, I tell you that Medicaid works for seniors, works for kids, works for people with disabilities, works for families….The Supreme Court should do the same by dismissing politically-motivated arguments and instead upholding the new law that expands Medicaid to many more Americans who really need it.”
Finally, if the Supreme Court actually strikes down the individual mandate in the healthcare law, it could be the proverbial ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back.’ At present, President Obama, like everyone else, will have to wait until at least June to learn the fate of the healthcare bill he signed into law in 2010.