The Supreme Court the United States upheld the Affordable Care Act by a 5-4 vote today. Surprisingly, the Chief Justice, John Roberts, normally very conservative, was the fifth vote. He even upheld the particularly controversial individual mandate as a tax but not as a fee. The decision did, however, limit the portion that mandated an expansion of Medicaid to insure some people by holding that states could opt out of such expansion without loss of the current share of Medicaid.
This victory, while greeted by celebration by many progressives, is but a moderate step on the way to achieving a situation where no one is left without insurance. Much remains to be done. First, we must re-elect President Obama in November and avert Republican control this year and every year thereafter to prevent reversal of gains. Cookie Roberts once said that she had learned that there was no legislative victory that could not be reversed.
Much progress remains to be made, however. The Affordable Care Act brought insurance to millions who could not afford it, but it left many other millions behind. Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC put this number at 26 million. A public option or a single-payer plan could have covered these people but was politically unpalatable, even in the Senate, where Joe Lieberman cast deciding vote against the former measure. This repugnant act earned him the moniker of “The Senator From Aetna” from some observers. He was not the first from the insurance-company riddled state of Connecticut to be so labeled. Ralph Nader once called former Senator Christopher Dodd the Senator from Aetna.
The reason that the public option failed was that insurance had provided what some said was half the campaign coffers amassed by conservative Democrats in the 2008 election. these votes combined with near unanimous Republican opposition doomed the public option in the Senate by Lieberman’s deciding vote and defeated the house. President Obama and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi may not have fought hard enough for the public option but they supported it and Pelosi tried to pass it. They got the best bill they could. They are not to blame for the opposition of conservative Democrats and rabid Republicans.
The need for a public option, single-payer system, or some means of universal coverage still exists. Millions of people are still uninsured. At the very least, a public option is needed to provide coverage to the indigent and competition to the semi-monopolistic insurance industry. A single-payer system, the right’s fanatic opposition to the concept notwithstanding, should be considered.
The fanaticism and hypocrisy of that opposition is troubling. They call single-payer “socialism” and the believe the public option is a road to single-payer. But it gets worse than that. One Republican congressperson, Mike Pence, compared yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act to the attack on 9/11 (he later tried to back of the comment)! The conservative Heartland Institute claimed that President Obama intimidated Chief Justice Roberts like Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez intimidate his country’s Supreme Court! Slick Senator Marco Rubio of Florida actually claimed that the president’s individual mandate was a tax, but the one Romney implemented in Massachusetts was not! Lastly, I saw a picture yesterday of someone holding a cardboard sign with writing that said, and I am not sure of the exact wording, “Can’t afford health care? You should have thought about that before you decided to be poor.” (That is pretty close). DECIDED to be poor? Some people are at least partially to blame for their poverty, but no one CHOOSES to be poor. Not only knee-jerk reaction to government spending on health care, but calumny against the poor.