The Supreme Court and the Health Care Mandate

So I suppose I have to do a post on yesterday’s big health care decision by the Supreme Court (you can read the opinion here and a plain English summary here). It was interesting to watch it unfold live, with Scotusblog on my laptop and cable news on my TV. The news said the health care mandate was struck down, while Scotusblog got it right, saying that the mandate had been upheld–but as a tax. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the entire opinion yet–hence the more impressionistic nature of this post–but I have enjoyed the commentary and reactions (yes, I know the health care decision is serious business. I apologize for focusing on the sizzle and not the steak. Deal with it.).

As a bleeding-heart liberal, I’m glad the mandate stood. there is value in having a healthy population, and encouraging healthy people to buy insurance should make insurance cheaper in the long term. I like that people can’t be denied for pre-existing conditions and those who make very little money can have access to government health care. And while we can discuss tax vs. penalty, conceptually (which is different from legally, mind you), I view the mandate and the financial penalty for not buying insurance along the lines of paying for a negative externality. By not buying insurance, you affect others, not just yourself. The fine should make up for that harm. I think most liberals seized on the “headline” of the health care decision and were happy.

Opponents of the act and mandate were disappointed, to put it mildly. Many turned on Chief Justice Roberts (a George W. Bush appointee), to which some replied (only half jokingly) that no one should be surprised that a GWB appointee upheld a policy that was originally cooked up by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. But the GOP (as nearly always) is better and quicker at messaging, so “tax,” became “tax hike.”

I will be curious to watch the commentary and political impact unfold. Already, Romney is saying he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare (but he offers no alternative plan, interestingly enough). Other conservatives are finding a silver lining in the health care decision, comparing it to Marbury v. Madison, both because of the political pressure on the Chief Justice, but also because like Marshall, Chief Justice Roberts gave the President a favorable decision, but in terms that his opponents can use to their advantage–in this case, the limits on the Commerce Clause.

Lastly, a big decision like this wouldn’t be complete without a Supreme Court conspiracy theory. The one I’m hearing the most is that the Chief Justice switched his opinion at the last moment. I’ll keep this in mind as I read the decision. Maybe someday we will learn more about what happened behind closed doors of the Supreme Court. But I’m not holding my breath. The Court is very good at keeping its secrets.

What do you think of the health care decision? What do you think about the media’s coverage of the Supreme Court? What do you think of the liberal and conservative responses? What do you think of the Chief Justice theory?

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