If you weren’t aware of it, the United States Supreme Court recently took up the issue of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as Obamacare. One of the major aspects at issue is whether the federal government can require individuals, like you and me, to purchase health insurance, or face a stiff penalty for the failure to do so. This is called the “individual mandate.” This provision has become the most important and talked about part of the controversial legislation.
The liberal viewpoint argues that the “common good” is promoted by the mandate because the uninsured are just as likely to get sick or injured as the insured, and they either delay seeking medical treatment to avoid the costs, which only makes treatment more costly down the road, or they fill the emergency rooms, receiving treatment on the taxpayer dime anyways. Many liberals also argue that healthcare is a fundamental right of Americans, much like the freedom of speech, religion, etc.
The conservative viewpoint argues that individual liberties and responsibilities are at the core of our country’s values and the federal government has no constitutional grounds for requiring a private citizen to purchase anything he or she doesn’t want to purchase. Further, this viewpoint states that we all have a responsibility to plan for the inevitable “oh, crap!” moments that we face, such as illness or injury.
My personal opinion on Obamacare may appear in a future post (perhaps leading up to the Supreme Court ruling this summer), but I will briefly state that I am, by default, skeptical of most actions of the federal government. Not all actions, but most. Never before has a citizen been required by the government to buy anything, and such a requirement seems to be a constitutional no-no to me. (And before you bring up mandatory automobile liability insurance, nobody requires that you drive a car, just that you purchase liability insurance if you choose to do so.)
So the Supreme Court is comprised of 9 Justices. Typically, 4 are safely in the conservative camp, 4 comfortably in the liberal camp, and then there is Justice Kennedy. While he tends to lean more conservative, he has certainly been that “swing vote” either way on a number of decisions, and the opponents’ oral arguments are often influential on his ultimate decision. In the recent oral arguments on Obamacare, Kennedy seemed unimpressed with the Obama Administration’s argument, inquiring “when you are changing the relation of the individual to the government in this…do you not have a heavy burden of justification to show authorization under the Constitution?” Justice Kennedy goes on to say “the reason this is concerning is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act.”
I know what you’re thinking – this Kennedy fella made the same argument as this Slam the Gavel blogger, about requiring the individual to do an affirmative act (buy something). Blogger must be a legal scholar or something. Well, maybe that’s not what you’re thinking, but you should be thinking that Kennedy’s comments may spell doom for Obamacare.