Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rule of Law Implications

I wasn't shocked how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on King v. Burwell, but it doesn't make the decision any less befuddling.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide tax subsidies underpinning President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, rejecting a major challenge to the landmark law in a ruling that preserves health insurance for millions of Americans.

The justices said in a 6-3 ruling that the subsidies that 8.7 million people currently receive to make insurance affordable do not depend on where they live, as opponents contended.

The challenge devised by die-hard opponents of the law relied on four words - "established by the state" - in the more than 900-page law.

The law's opponents argued that the vast majority of people who now get help paying for their insurance premiums are ineligible for their federal tax credits. That is because roughly three dozen states opted against creating their own health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, and instead rely on the federal to help people find coverage if they don't get insurance through their jobs or the government.

In the challengers' view, the phrase "established by the state" demonstrated that subsidies were to be available only to people in states that set up their own exchanges.

The administration, congressional Democrats and 22 states responded that it would make no sense to construct the law the way its opponents suggested. The idea behind the law's structure was to decrease the number of uninsured. The law prevents insurers from denying coverage because of "pre-existing" health conditions. It requires almost everyone to be insured and provides financial help to consumers who otherwise would spend too much of their paycheck on their premiums.

The point of the last piece, the subsidies, is to keep enough people in the pool of insured to avoid triggering a disastrous decline in enrollment, a growing proportion of less healthy people and premium increases by insurers.

Just a few general reactions:

- I hesitate to react with the obligatory objection of "JUDICIAL ACTIVISM" simply because that would imply that I prefer the courts to be another legislative branch and rule according to my preferred ideology. But when Chief Justice John Roberts, who issued the majority opinion, says things like "Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them....," that seems to stray from a legal ruling into advocacy.

- Speaking of the Chief Justice, I saw a lot of conspiracy theories suggesting the Obama administration has some dirt on Roberts, thus explaining why he ruled in favor of Obamacare in both legal challenges. While that may assuage the feelings of O-Care opponents, I find that claim to be highly dubious. My best guess is Roberts is keenly aware of how his CJ predecessor William Rehnquist had his legacy (fairly or unfairly) somewhat tarnished as a result of the Bush v. Gore ruling. As such, Roberts doesn't want to be viewed in a similar light, which is a staunch partisan.

- Justice Antonin Scalia issued the dissenting opinion. Perhaps the most memorable paragraph from said opinion was as follows:

“We should start calling this law SCOTUScare … [T]his Court’s two decisions on the Act will surely be remembered through the years … And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”

- Finally, many Democrats (including Obama) and lefty pundits declare this latest SCOTUS decision to be the death knell of anymore challenges to the ACA (legally and legislatively) and that it's here to stay. Well if indeed Republicans have a viable alternative to Obamacare as they claim to, now would be as good a time as any to bring it forth. It doesn't have to be over.


No comments: