The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to affirm a critical part of the “Affordable Care Act” (aka, “Obamacare”) comes as welcome news for millions of U.S. citizens who would otherwise stand to lose health insurance coverage. The fact that Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority decision and Anthony Kennedy who frequently joins with the Scalia and the other three conservative Justices underscores the historic significance of this decision. Indeed, it’s likely that King v. Burwell will rank with such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade.
Much has been written about the disruptive effects the opposite ruling would have had on the insurance industry, hospitals, clinics, and the broader economy, as well as the most vulnerable segments of society. By upholding the ACA, SCOTUS not ruled in favor of Obama or “the liberal agenda” or “socialism”, as the extreme right will claim, but rather in favor of social and economic stability, prosperity, and, to quote the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all”. Chief Justice Roberts distilled the essence of the majority opinion into a single sentence: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. ”
At nearly 20% of GDP annually, the slice of the economy devoted to health care spending in the United States is nearly double that in Japan, Sweden, Finland, Norway, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. In Australia, the cost of health care is roughly 7% of GDP. In the United States, it is approaching 20%. That is appalling on its face, but a very good reason for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (appointed by George W. Bush) and the “swing vote” (Justice Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan) to vote for country and common sense even if it meant incurring the wrath of a rabid Antonin Scalia (another one of Ronald Reagan’s gifts to the nation).
Bottom line: killing the Affordable Care Act would be devastating to the economy, not unlike killing Social Security and Medicare, which until recent times even conservative Republicans did not countenance – at least no publicly. Thankfully, a six of the nine Supreme Court justices are not too blinded by ideology or beholden to the Koch brothers to join hands when the public interest is clearly on the side of upholding a good law.
Unfortunately, a whole raft of wannabe presidents on the right don’t get it. Or at least they’re pretending not to, denouncing both POTUS and SCOTUS, and ignoring the facts.
What ARE the facts? In a nutshell, notes economist Paul Krugman, “states that have implemented the act in full and expanded Medicaid, data from the Urban Institute show the uninsured falling from more than 16 percent to just 7.5 percent — that is, in year two we’re already around 80 percent of the way there.”
Never mind the facts – Congressman John Fleming (R-La.) has called the ACA, “the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed. Others have claimed it will lead to “Armageddon”. One New Hampshire state legislator called it “as destructive to personal and individual liberties as the Fugitive Slave Act” – you know, the law that let people who looked like George Wallace and Lester Maddox get people who looked like Barack and Michelle Obama get their slaves back! A Michelle of another color – Rep. Michelle Bachman, the hysterical mouth that roared from Minnesota – has warned that Obamacare had better be repealed “before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”
Can a party that has gone off the rails so routinely and recklessly long survive in a country where the overwhelming majority of voters are moderate, middle-of-the-road, and decent? The answer is probably “yes”, but not unless its leaders return to the principles that have sustained it since the 1860s.
The Supreme Court decision was not only good news for country, but, as Barbara Morrill points out, “it’s also good news for the Republican Party, who, despite being the drivers of the lawsuit, were facing the prospect of being responsible for those millions losing their coverage, without having any plan in place to fix the law had the Supreme Court gutted the subsidies. So now they can get back to their usual ‘repeal and replace’ talking points without ever having to act.”
In a country where a young white racist can still feel righteous and justified in killing nine citizens in a church in South Carolina, let’s hope the electorate never again puts reactionaries in a position to act…