When former US Senator Tom Daschle spoke at the recent SAS Health Care and Life Sciences Executive Conference, he opined on the legal fate of the Affordable Care Act by quoting Winston Churchill:
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
On Wednesday, 26 states and a three-judge panel in Atlanta moved the country a step closer to having tried everything else when the court heard opposing viewpoints about the law, which was designed to guarantee health insurance for all. Opponents – in this case, the 26 states that disagree with President Obama – say the provision that requires citizens to buy health insurance, whether they want it or not, violates the US Constitution. The federal government cannot compel an individual “to take part in commercial activity,” they argued.
But the acting solicitor general disagrees. He says the Constitution’s commerce clause permits individual mandates because they correct the current system of cost-shifting that occurs when uninsured citizens inevitably seek medical attention.
Doctors and hospitals cannot legally turn away patients who cannot or will not buy coverage. So the cost of their treatment – about $43 billion a year – shifts over to everyone else’s bills.
Arguments about the role of the federal government in anything – not just health care – are as old as the country itself. And they’re not going away anytime soon. The Atlanta hearing was just one stop in an appellate-court roadshow of similar lawsuits across the country, all winding their way to Washington for a showdown in the Supreme Court.