In March or April of 2012, the Supreme Court will hear a record setting five-and-a-half hours of arguments concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as Obamacare. While the specifics of the act are enormous, and there is debate over how effective the act will be in helping uninsured Americans, the court will decide on a much grander issue: whether or not the ACA is constitutional.
The main argument that circulates among news stations and public forums is whether the government has the power to require individuals to buy something. But that is only part of the issue. The individual mandate that requires citizens of the United States to buy health insurance (or pay a penalty for not doing so) is only one of four decisions that must be considered by the court.
The first issue that must be considered concerns the Anti-Injunction Act, which would prevent the bill from being challenged by taxpayers before it takes effect. That would serve virtually no purpose other than to adhere to formalities, as well as push the hearing to sometime in 2015.
The second argument deals with whether the federal government has the power to force people to buy a product. That is the issue many people, particularly those who identify as Republican or conservative, have a very large problem with. For starters, many argue that is an unprecedented action by the federal government. Philip Klein, a senior editor for The Examiner said “Congress has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.” The main argument, however, is that Congress would overstep its authority provided under the Commerce Clause. Congress is able to regulate commercial activity among the states, but not inactivity.
What, at first, seems like a minor difference eventually proves to be crucially important. If Congress can extend its power to economic inactivity, it could theoretically force an individual to buy any good or service, or institute a penalty for noncompliance. As Rudy Barnett, a constitutional professor at Georgetown University puts it, congress “could make you have an abortion…make you buy a car from [General Motors]… [or] make you work in the defense industry.” It is a power that exceeds the limits of Congress.
But the individual health care mandate is not the only controversial issue at play. The courts must also consider another provision of the act, which deals with regulating and reducing costs of Medicare. The ACA provides for creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which would oversee the costs of various Medicare components. While the IPAB would be responsible for cutting costs in various areas of Medicare, it would also have the final say on who receives treatments such as dialysis or cancer chemotherapy. Many political activists are calling the IPAB a “death panel” and, while that is an exaggeration, the possibility of a decision that cuts off necessary treatment does exist.
Not only does the IPAB have the authority to make critical decisions, but its power is almost totally uncontestable. According to Peter Roff, an editor for the U.S. News and World Report, “Under Obamacare, IPAB’s recommendations must be adopted,” and “Congress is denied the power to overrule its decisions.” That means the IPAB could overtly overturn a previously made law in its dealings with Medicare, and the act would legally prohibit administrative or judicial review of how the IPAB’s recommendations are implemented. That is a dangerous and shady addition to an act designed to reform health care.
In addition to those areas of Obamacare, the Supreme Court must decide whether the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate and the IPAB justifies throwing out out the entire act, or just parts of it. There are some sections of the act that provide care to needy Americans, and according to CBS, “1 million young people have taken advantage of the provision, [which] allows them to stay on the insurance plan of their parents, until the age of 26.” It is necessary to point out that there are portions of the ACA that could prove valuable to the American public, but the implementation of the act is extremely suspect.
Twenty-six states have joined together to fight against the Affordable Care Act, including Washington saying it is blatantly unconstitutional. The fact that over half of our nation agrees that this act is a bad idea should say something about its existence. I, for one, openly oppose Obamacare, and I strongly urge others to do so as well.
By Ryan Stevens