Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), state governments are expected to set up health insurance exchanges through which individuals will buy their own health insurance, in many cases with substantial subsidies. Should the states comply?
In the following point-counterpoint discussion, Linda Gorman and I give opposing answers to this important question. Leave your thoughts in the comments.
John Goodman: Yes
If the states abdicate their responsibilities under PPACA, the federal government will step in and act in lieu of the state. Under this scenario, states will relinquish all power to make a bad law better. Letting the federal government implement reform almost guarantees bad outcomes.
Linda Gorman: No
Exchanges are required to perform a variety of duties beyond distributing ObamaCare subsidies, and these duties are likely to add significantly to estimated costs. Some of them will damage a state’s business climate by creating new opportunities for crony capitalism. Some require that currently fashionable, but poorly tested, models be forced on health care providers. Some require that state exchanges have expertise equal to private insurers. Others force states to increase the cost of health insurance for people who currently have coverage.
John Goodman continued:
The states should engage in preemptive reform over the next two years. This means enacting responsible, rational reforms — the kind of reforms that they should have enacted all along, in the absence of federal legislation. Where possible, states should try to make their reforms compatible with the new federal law — but only if compatibility does not sacrifice the major goals of the state’s reform.
“How can the government make us buy health insurance? What gives them that right?”
Sitting on my left while our airplane raced above the clouds, Elizabeth was clearly upset about Obamacare. She wondered why the bill had to be so long, and why Obama would endorse a plan that doubled her health insurance costs. But nothing vexed her more than the individual mandate.
At least that’s what I though until I spoke with her at greater length, and she revealed a profound truth to me about people’s attitudes towards the mandate and towards Obamacare more generally: she showed me that deep down she liked the idea of the mandate, once she realized its important role in accomplishing goals people on all sides of the political spectrum care about deeply.
We were flying towards North Carolina the day before the Supreme Court held its oral arguments on Obama’s healthcare plan. Elizabeth had heard a great deal about the mandate. She read The Wall Street Journal regularly, in part because it was so relevant to her work in banking. And she enjoyed watching Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, but not Hannity, who she thought was “too extreme”. She was by no means a conservative extremist. She had major concerns about the banking industry for example, and as a Christian felt strongly that income inequality is a moral problem that neither party was addressing in an effective manner. But she was solidly Republican, no doubt about that, and she agreed with most people in that political party that Obamacare was hurting the economy. And above all she believed the health insurance mandate was “un-American.”
As the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the Obama healthcare law, the court itself is on trial.
Obamacare supporters are attacking the justices as “hacks dressed up in black robes,” calling for limits on their life tenure, and claiming judicial review is undemocratic.
Worse, President Obama and his Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius are shoveling money into implementing the law as fast as possible and refuse to discuss an alternative. That’s irresponsible. What’s needed now is not court bashing but contingency planning.
The Obama administration and allies in Congress have nine weeks to plan how to pick up the pieces on a vast array of health insurance issues. It’s the President’s duty to have a plan. It will signal his respect for the nation’s system of checks and balances — something he has utterly failed to show.
Well, the future of American health care is now controlled by lawyers. That may not be news – doctors, drug makers, and medical-device makers have long complained about the cost of lawsuits. But this different: The future of PPACA is in the hands of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of lawyers billed thousands of hours analyzing and preparing briefs for the case. And that’s after countless hours spent by Congressional staff lawyers putting the bill together in 2009 and 2010. The result? A “law” so confusing that even the legislators – themselves mostly lawyers – could not bother to even try to read it.
It makes one think: If the lawyers are designing the health-care system, shouldn’t they be forced to operate under regulations similar to those they’re imposing? How, for example, do lawyers get paid? Today, they negotiate fees with clients. That hardly seems fair. In health care, doctors don’t negotiate fees with patients, they get paid according to an opaque schedule determined by health plans. Lawyers should do the same. The solution is “legal insurance”. After all, who amongst us knows when we’ll need a lawyer? It is often an unpredictable expense, and yet the “market” seems to have failed to provide such insurance. Government must intervene.
While it’s comforting to just blame the GOP for the unhappiness with health reform threatening the president’s re-election, the truth is that Barack Obama repeatedly botched, bungled and bobbled the health reform message. There were three big mistakes:
The Passionless Play
While Candidate Obama proclaimed a passionate moral commitment to fix American health care, President Obama delved into legislative details.
When a Baptist minister at a nationally televised town hall asked in mid-2009 whether reform would cause his benefits to be taxed due to “government taking over health care,” Candidate Obama might have replied that 22,000 of the minister’s neighbors die each year because they lack any benefits at all. Instead, President Obama’s three-part reply recapped his plans for tax code fairness.
While Republicans railed about mythical “death panels,” and angry Tea Party demonstrators held signs showing Obama with a Hitler moustache, the president opted to leave emotion to his opponents. The former grassroots organizer who inspired a million people of all ages and ethnicities to flock to Washington for his inauguration never once tried to mobilize ordinary Americans to demand a basic right available in all other industrialized nations. In fact, he hasn’t even mobilized the nearly 50 million uninsured, who have no more favorable opinion about the new law than those with health insurance!
Last week, I wrote an article describing several purchase mandates adopted by the framers in early Congresses, including two medical insurance mandates imposed on shipowners and seamen. These examples rebut the claim by challengers to Obamacare that purchase mandates are wholly unprecedented in a way that allows us to infer they are unconstitutional, a claim on which they rely heavily because there is no text, history, or case law that affirmatively supports a ban on purchase mandates.
Not everyone agrees with me. Some comments to my article, here and elsewhere, have suggested that these early medical mandates are distinguishable from Obamacare because they reflect Congress’ power to enact maritime law, not its power to regulate commerce. But the Constitution’s list of congressional powers nowhere includes a maritime law clause. Early Supreme Court cases all held that the Commerce Clause was what gives Congress the power to enact maritime law. For example, in The Daniel Ball, a case decided in 1871, the Court stated that navigable waters form “a continued highway for commerce, both with other States and with foreign countries, and is thus brought under the direct control of Congress in the exercise of its commercial power. That power authorizes all appropriate legislation for the protection or advancement of either interstate or foreign commerce…” In The Lottawanna, the Court held that it was under this commerce clause power that Congress had enacted statutes that determined “the rights and duties of seamen” and “the limitations of the responsibility of shipowners.” These early medical mandates were thus enacted under the very Commerce Clause at issue in the Obamacare case.
There is no doubt that the campaign to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare will have its weakest standard bearer if Mitt Romney becomes the Republican candidate for President. His embrace of an “individual mandate” to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, as legislated in his 2006 Massachusetts health reform, is anathema to those faithful to the ideal of limited government. When Mr. Romney declares that he will issue a universal waiver from ObamaCare’s regulations as his first executive order, the people who should be voting for him fear that such action would be a substitute for repeal, instead of a preparation for it. (Do these folks really think a clean repeal bill, like the one passed by the House of Representatives in January 2010, will be on the president’s desk on inauguration day?)
But maybe we should look at it another way: If Mitt Romney had never signed his 2006 law (which was motivated, as the president’s men are so fond of telling us, but an idea generated at The Heritage Foundation), those of us committed to defeating ObamaCare would never be in the fortunate position we are today – the whole, ungodly mess hanging by a thin thread after a brutal hazing in the Supreme Court last week.
Without Massachusetts’ 2006 law, there is almost no likelihood that the Democrats would have written an individual mandate into the bill. Instead, they would have just hiked taxes. The only reason they painted a thin varnish of so-called “individual responsibility” onto the bill was so that they could pin some of the blame on Mitt Romney and certain conservatives who had embraced it. As noted by Avik Roy, the individual mandate was traditionally anathema to liberals, who prefer straight-forward tax hikes.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the administration’s health law, aka ObamaCare. Opponents are giddy with the possibility that the law might be struck down.
But what then? Millions of uninsured, both those who choose not to purchase coverage and those who can’t due to pre-existing conditions, will still be with us. The rising costs and inefficient delivery of health care will still be with us.
The country can have a vibrant market for individual health insurance. Insurance proper is what pays for unplanned large expenses, not for regular, predictable expenses. Insurance policies should be “guaranteed renewable”: The policy should include a right to purchase insurance in the future, no matter if you get sick. And insurance should follow you from job to job, and if you move across state lines.
Why don’t we have such markets? Because the government has regulated them out of existence.
Most pathologies in the current system are creatures of previous laws and regulations. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli explained as much in his opening statement to the Supreme Court: “The individual market does not provide affordable health insurance,” he noted, “because the multibillion dollar subsidies that are available” for the “employer market are not available in the individual market.”
Start with the tax deduction employers can take for their contributions to group health-insurance policies—but which they cannot take for making contributions to employees for individual, portable insurance policies. This is why you have insurance only so long as you stay with one employer, and why you face pre-existing conditions exclusions if you change jobs.
Americans believe in second chances. The oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week were a rare opportunity to dispassionately re-examine the divisive healthcare debate of two years ago. What happens if, after the smoke clears, we get a second chance at healthcare reform?
We’ve long known that healthcare will be a central theme in the 2012 presidential contest. The High Court’s deliberations and June decision only reinforce that reality for President Obama and Governor Romney.
Unlike with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the constitutionality of Governor Romney’s Massachusetts law has never been seriously questioned. States, not the federal government, have police powers, allowing them to require purchases (car insurance, taxes and licensure) and to pass wide-ranging public health laws and public safety laws. The Bay State law enjoys broad popular support.
In contrast, the case before the Supreme Court was brought by the majority of states. Regardless of what the Court decides, the PPACA will continue to polarize the country.
President Obama may cite Romney’s Massachusetts reform as inspiring his efforts, but there are profound differences in the size, reach and financing of the two laws. Elected just six months after the law’s passage, Romney’s successor, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, has obscured some of those differences by taking a big government approach to implementation.
Where Romney sought an open marketplace for individuals to purchase benefit plans ranging from catastrophic to generous, Patrick has drastically limited choices and mandated minimum coverage levels beyond private-market norms.
“GOP to the Uninsured: (Feel Free to) Drop Dead.” So reads the title Michael Millenson post at the Health Care Blog yesterday. It gets worse:
[N]o Republican presidential candidate has ever presented a serious plan to cover all the uninsured … The difference between Democrats and this generation of Republicans — unfortunately including even the GOP Doctors Caucus — is not at its core a disagreement on what government can legitimately do to help create universal access to health care for the 50 million Americans without it, but whether the goal itself is worth pursuing.
Was Millenson completely asleep (like Rip Van Winkle) during the last election? Does he not read my Wall Street Journal editorials? Does he never visit my blog? Or was this meant to be an April fool’s column?
John McCain’s health plan was more radical and even more progressive than Obama Care. I’ve never seen any serious health policy wonk deny that. Maybe Millenson doesn’t live in a battle ground state. If he did, he would know that the Obama campaign spent more money attacking the McCain health plan during the election than has ever been spent for or against a public policy idea in the history of the republic. In fact, it is probably no exaggeration to say that Obama successfully turned the election into a referendum on the McCain health plan!
The McCain health plan is discussed at this blog here, here, here, here and here.
And although Millenson singles out Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn as an especially egregious example of the Republican failure on health policy, the McCain vision actually was based on a bill, sponsored by Sen. Coburn and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), along with Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Devin Nunes (R-CA), [hereinafter called the Coburn bill]. That bill, in turn, was based on an idea which Mark Pauly and I proposed in a Health Affairs article more than a decade ago. (Does Millenson not read Health Affairs?)