A federal judge in Texas has brought long-overdue clarity to our interminable debate over health care reform. On Friday, District Judge Reed O’Connor struck down Obamacare in its entirety, arguing that the individual mandate—the part of the law that forces American to buy insurance or pay a penalty—is unconstitutional. Because O’Connor ruled that the mandate can’t be separated from the rest of the health care law, he invalidated the whole thing.
It’s about time. No serious person has ever doubted that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, because no possible reading of the Commerce Clause could support such an outlandish scheme. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia noted during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in 2012, if the government can force you to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause, it can also force you to buy broccoli, or a car, or pretty much anything. Allowing the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause powers would give Congress unlimited authority to regulate almost every aspect of our lives.
In his majority opinion for that case, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declared rather straightforwardly that, “The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance.” But then Roberts did something not straightforward at all. He construed the penalty—the Orwellian-sounding “shared responsibility payment”—as merely a tax, and therefore permissible under the federal government’s taxing power. By this rather crude rhetorical legerdemain, Obamacare survived.
Of course, the individual mandate penalty was never a tax, and everyone knows it. When Congress passed last year’s tax bill, it set the penalty to zero, beginning next year. That one move exposed the cynical heart of Obamacare for what it is. If there is no penalty, and no revenue being brought in for the federal government, then the penalty isn’t a tax. And because the individual mandate violates Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause, the mandate must be struck down, along with the rest of the law.
Obamacare Failed Because Young People Didn’t Want To Pay For It
All of this underscores the blunt reality that Obamacare was always at heart a bad-faith proposition. The basic operation of the law, never stated or acknowledged by its authors, was to force younger, healthier people to subsidize health insurance for older, sicker people. It was a redistribution scheme, plain and simple.
Perhaps that’s a sound policy, maybe even a morally upright one. But that was never what Obamacare defenders claimed the law to be. They said it was a “market-based” reform, that it would foster competition and lower prices, that you could keep your plan and your doctor, that the average family would save $2,500 a year.
None of it was true. When health insurance premiums began skyrocketing and millions of Americans lost their coverage because insurance companies began canceling plans, the law’s faults, contradictions, and basic unfairness became obvious. Obamacare’s defenders were at pains to refute claims that the law was fundamentally redistributive or that it represented a federal takeover of individual insurance markets—indeed, that its rules about preexisting conditions represented a radical redefinition of health insurance itself.
Democrats tried to argue that the law wasn’t working properly because Republican governors and state houses weren’t cooperating: they refused to expand Medicaid or set up exchanges or train bureaucrats to help people navigate the byzantine mechanisms to buy Obamacare-compliant plans.
All along, everyone knew the real reason the law wasn’t working was because not enough young people were signing up. Instead of buying expensive and overstuffed health insurance plans, they were opting to pay the much cheaper penalty for skipping coverage altogether. At the time, health policy wonks on the left noted that the law would only work if the penalties were more punitive. Unless it cost more to not have insurance than to buy an Obamacare plan, why would otherwise healthy young people spend upwards of $1,000 a month or more on coverage they were unlikely to use?
They wouldn’t, and they didn’t, and the trend of people forgoing health insurance is no longer limited to young people. A growing number of Americans who don’t get insurance through an employer are simply going without it.
Enough With The Health Care Sleight-of-hand
Roberts might have saved Obamacare in 2012, but he couldn’t save the unpopular law from itself. Ordinary Americans knew the mandate penalty wasn’t a tax, it was exactly what it appeared to be: a punishment for not following orders.
The entire Obamacare ordeal has been marked by this kind of false dealing and cynicism. Who can forget the videos of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber, sneering and boasting about how “the lack of transparency is a huge political advantage” and that “the stupidity of the American voter… was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”
This is absolutely true and the Democrats didn’t have the guts to make the penalty more than the cost of insurance because that would make Obamacare (more) unpopular. Obama held back many of the more unpopular aspects so they wouldn’t affect upcoming elections; the full brunt of the law would make it even MORE unpopular. Their own cowardice killed Obama’s centerpiece of failure.
Gruber definitely had Obama’s constituency sized up.
October 22, 2019 – Obamacare premiums are dropping 4% for 2020 plans
Trump still hasn’t revealed the republican plan that he asserted was better, cheaper, available to everybody, and ready to roll out. No doubt this will be produced shortly after his reelection.
@Greg: Because the mandate is dropped. Now there is competition. Funny how that works, huh?
@Greg: Heath care programs should be rolled out at no larger than state wide, to test them see if they can be improved to roll out a national system that was so wonderful it was compulsory and killed choice and competition. Have you had your pap smear Greg? Its free! I guess you might not need maternity coverage but you are paying for it.
@kitt: But when they do that, they all prove to be disastrous. Democrats don’t care for that kind of testing of socialism.
Now Taylor’s “secret” opening statement has been released. Basically, in his opinion, Trump did bad things. Wow. How substantive.
@Deplorable Me, #3:
Complete nonsense. What did the mandate have to do with competition?
@Greg:The mandate forced people to buy plans no matter the cost. Costs went out of control. Without the mandate, people aren’t forced to by plans with exorbitant premiums and deductibles, so they didn’t. So, the prices have to go down to lure customers.
Just like college tuition.
Democrats of today should not be allowed within 100,000 miles of our government.