The Court’s Decision Doesn’t Change the Fact that Obamacare is Broken

Obamacare has survived yet another run in with the Supreme Court. Fortunately for the law’s proponents, each case comes with a diminishing sense of intrigue and concern, the result of a Court that appears willing to bend rules and redefine words in order to protect the Affordable Care Act. The Court’s willingness to bend over backwards didn’t go unnoticed by some justices.

“Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case,” Justice Scalia writes in a pointed dissent. “But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.”

But the ultimate fate of Obamacare was always an issue for the court of public opinion, not the Supreme Court. And in that sense, it’s not out of the woods yet.

Obamacare has cleared a second major hurdle at the Supreme Court — but its troubles are far from over. Jennifer Haberkorn reports for POLITICO:

The law is still highly unpopular, and significant structural issues remain: Health insurance rates are rising, many people don’t have as much choice of doctors and hospitals as they’d like, some states continue to struggle with their exchanges, and 21 states still haven’t backed Medicaid expansion.

So while President Barack Obama can point to a two-time victory at the high court and the law’s historic increase of health coverage, his foes — including the Republicans jockeying for the 2016 ticket — can recite an alternative story. The fact that both realities are true — a red story that paints a grim picture and a blue version that has a much brighter hue — will make it hard to move on.

That duality is what made the Supreme Court’s opinion so frustrating because Chief Justice Roberts seemed to whitewash the reality and presume an objectively good intent.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Roberts wrote. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

But Obamacare is and always was a politically driven bill, with partisan ideas on how to refashion health care that don’t wash with conservatives. The bill wasn’t about “improving health insurance markets,” it was about refashioning them to fit the world according to a left-leaning viewpoint that places a great emphasis on governmental management of markets. As Yuval Levin writes in a must-read critique of the decision:

In effect, [the Court offers] a version of the president’s argument: Obamacare is not so much a particular law as an overarching desire “to improve health insurance markets” and so if at all possible it should be taken to mean whatever one believes would be involved in doing so.

This understanding of the role of the judge threatens to undermine the rule of law in the American system of government, because it undermines the central place assigned to written law, and to the legislator, in that system. . .  It implies that Congress should have just passed a law that said “health insurance markets shall be improved,” and then left it to the executive agencies to decide how they wish to do that while judges nod in approval.

Fortunately, while the Supreme Court is busy jumping through jurisprudential hoops in an attempt to make a terrible law better, the Republican Congress has not given up trying to pass new legislation “to improve health insurance markets.”

“Obamacare is fundamentally broken, increasing health care costs for millions of Americans. Today’s ruling doesn’t change that fact,” Speaker John Boehner said. “Republicans will continue to listen to American families and work to protect them from the consequences of Obamacare. And we will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient centered solutions …”

And it looks like they’ll have the political winds at their back. The most recent polling shows that pluralities of Americans continue to hold unfavorable views of the law, a situation that isn’t likely to improve given that premiums for 2016 are rising faster than in 2015, causing some people to see year-over-year increases of as much as 50 percent. 

 “This would have been an opportunity to get some things right. We’re not going to have that opportunity now with President Obama in the White House,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. “We still have to fix health care. You cannot fix Obamacare.”

And no matter what the Supreme Court says, Obamacare can’t fix health care.

Cover photo – Opinion: King v Burwell, No. 14-114 (Art Lien)