This week’s Supreme Court hearings on the Affordable Care Act have made two things crystal clear:
First, most of the discussion actually propels the argument toward broader — not narrower — health care reform.
And second, the conservative members of the court apparently can act like partisan fearmongers with the best of them.
On the first point, the court paid its most pointed attention to the question of the individual insurance mandate and whether the federal government can compel U.S. residents to buy health coverage or pay a penalty.
The reasoning all along here has been that in order for such a system to be financially viable, all residents — regardless of age, desire or medical condition — must participate so that younger, healthier people can balance out the costs of older, sicker folks.
Because we will all proceed through the same stages in life and face medical needs at some time or another, this is a fair-minded, sensible approach.
It’s an approach whose most logical conclusion, really, is not an “insurance mandate” but public health care, in the mode of Social Security and Medicare.
The fact that we are trying to define health care differently for the general population than we do for our older citizens is a bit of unnecessary gymnastics that spawns the kind of debate we saw this week, in which the highest judges in the land wring their hands over the specter of the federal government overstepping its bounds.
If the justices and the majority of the country constitutionally support the concepts of Social Security and Medicare, so should they also support a national health care system.
But because some people see that as the devil incarnate — in other words, socialism — the Affordable Care Act evolved into the law we have now, including the “mandate” language that is giving some people fits.
And that led to lots of silly speculation at Tuesday’s hearing, which saw some of the allegedly most acute and esteemed legal minds in the country making all kinds of stupid leaps of logic, barging into obvious fallacies like a bunch of blind donkeys.
If the federal government can force you to buy health insurance, what else can it force you to do?
Can it require you to buy a cellphone to call emergency services, asked Chief Justice John Roberts?
Can it require you to buy mandatory burial insurance, asked Justice Samuel Alito?
And the most inane of them all, can it require you to eat broccoli, asked Justice Antonin Scalia?
Scalia also compared health care to cars, and I’m starting to find this a little hard to believe.
Is it not patently obvious that fundamental differences exist between health care and things like cellphones, cars and broccoli?
The fact is, nearly every American — hundreds of millions of people — will need some form of health care at some point.
A fraction of Americans will ever have to call for emergency services. Nobody has to buy a car, and no dealer is compelled to sell you one. Same for broccoli.
But when you keel over from a stroke and need that treatment, a doctor must provide it, whether you have insurance or not, whether you can pay one dime or not.
For those reasons, health care is not any random commodity. And it is not a luxury that should only be afforded by the rich or fortunate.
It is a basic right, one that any of us could require at zero notice, when we are incapacitated and without even the simple ability to choose.
Even in that state, we will get care.
And yet here we are, where instead of listening to justices compare it to the things it’s like, all we hear are analogies to the things it’s not like.
When you think about it, it’s so ridiculous that you begin to wonder if these justices were not acting simply crazy, but crazy like a fox — as in they have some broader motive for the litany of dumb comparisons.
Perhaps they were offering these examples to precisely show that unique distinction.
I can only hope that is the case, but we’ll have to wait and see.
June — and a decision — can’t come too soon.
What do you think? Share your thoughts here.
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