Today one judge, in one federal court, ruled that the health care reform bill's mandate that most Americans buy insurance was unconstitutional.
Before opponents of "Obamacare" (I don't like that term, since he didn't write the legislation, but will reluctantly use it) get all excited, they need to keep in mind this fact:
Fourteen other judges have "either dismissed cases against the law's constitutionality or ruled against those cases."
The mandate remains in effect as Judge Henry Hudson's ruling is appealed. It will take a couple of years before the constitutionality of Obamacare is decided by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, implementation of the law will continue as planned. Thankfully.
Because even though the health care reform bill was decidedly imperfect, it's a major step in the right direction: improving the economic competitiveness of the United States and making our citizens healthier.
We won't be able to make much progress on our deficit and job growth problems so long as health care costs suck up an ever-increasing share of the federal budget and business expenses.
Other countries are kicking our butt, health system-wise, because the United States is stuck with spending a heck of a lot more for health care while garnering mediocre health outcomes.
I think Judge Hudson is wrong on the law, and he's really wrong if he believes that health care reform can succeed without almost everybody having insurance.
Insurance companies were the ones demanding a mandate, because if the popular ban on denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions stays in place, a mandate is essential (otherwise healthy people will go without insurance until they get seriously sick, then buy a policy when their health care costs are about to skyrocket).
Also, the United States already has an informal mandate, because most people get needed health care one way or the other. They just often don't pay for it themselves. Uncompensated/charity care is a huge burden for health care providers.
So which is more fair?
(1) Openly requiring everybody to have insurance and subsidizing those who can't afford it, or (2) continuing the current system of shifting costs of unpaid care to the general public in a hidden, inefficient fashion. I'll take door #1 please. Which the Supreme Court likely will affirm also in a few years.
E.J. Dionne has a good column on this issue, "Health care: Legislating from the Bench." He ends with...
There would be ways to preserve the health-care law's basic thrust if the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the mandate unconstitutional. But here is an entertaining thought for you: The whole point of the mandate is to preserve a strong private insurance market as an alternative to a government-dominated system. (Medicare for all, for example.)
If you want to 1. keep the private market, 2. have universal coverage, and 3. have rules barring insurance companies from excluding people from coverage because of preexisting health conditions, you need some way of having everyone paying into the system. You end up with a mandate or something like it.
If the complicated things you need to do to accomplish these three objectives are ruled unconstitutional, the courts will gradually narrow the options for supporters of universal coverage. A single-payer system might be the only option left. Maybe soon we'll see a new organization: "Activist Conservative Judges for Single Payer Health Care."
But we are not there yet, and here's hoping that when it comes to the health-care law, the Supreme Court decides not to legislate from the bench.