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Was the ruling striking down the health-care law's individual mandate a setback for the left?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | DECEMBER 16, 2010 7:10 AM

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YES

The fate of the Affordable Care Act essentially rests with two men: Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Kennedy was once seen as clearly conservative, but he has become the swing vote on a court that has drifted subtly — but unmistakably — further to the right under Roberts. Kennedy's vote is too difficult to predict, and Roberts' too easy for progressives to confidently watch the case climb the judicial ladder.

Although a federal judge's recent striking down of the individual mandate is not a devastating blow to progressive health-care reform, it is still a setback. The decision hurts the left by lending credence to the arguments that question the law's constitutionality.

The individual mandate portion of the law states that individuals must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Short of a public option, this is the only way to ensure coverage and control costs.

Because the law bans insurance companies from refusing to offer insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, people would have an incentive to wait until they got sick to buy insurance.

Without the mandate, the entire law would fail.

Roberts has led a court that has handed down a number of questionable decisions; his jurisprudence reflects a clear ideology that is certainly not progressive. The closer to Roberts the health-care law moves, the greater chance the Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy.

Each judge who has heard arguments on the health-care law so far has ruled along party lines. This disparity of opinion on the individual mandate question all but ensures the case will reach the Supreme Court. Each decision against the law erodes its legitimacy, potentially setting the stage for a final decision that rejects the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

The recent ruling, while not an insurmountable roadblock, poses yet another obstacle for the progressive cause.

— by Will Mattessich

NO

While I can't claim to speak for all leftists, I'm not particularly saddened by a Virginia judge's ruling that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is unconstitutional.

The federal district court's decision does not necessarily reflect future rulings on the bill, for one thing. And even if the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that portion of health-care reform is unconstitutional, it wouldn't represent a challenge to the progressive idea that health care is a human right.

In addition, I'm fundamentally skeptical that forcing people to buy for-profit corporate services is a good thing, especially given the lack of price controls in the Affordable Care Act.

If the Supreme Court ends up agreeing with the Virginia court, there would be two possible scenarios: The mandate would be tossed out and the rest of the bill would stay, or the entire bill would be scrapped, leaving us where we started.

If the former happened, the Obama administration's assertion that the health-care system requires an individual mandate would actually be tested, instead of being repeated as gospel. If the latter occurred, leftists should feel free to shed a tear or two — but looking ahead is always better than grieving.

The provisions in the health-care law requiring coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, emphasizing preventative care, and preventing insurance companies from dropping newly diagnosed cancer patients are certainly excellent, but the current law stands in the way of a single-payer health-care system. That system, aborted before discussion even began, would make health care affordable and accessible to all Americans.

With an incoming Republican House, it may seem unlikely that a new health-care reform bill would be any better, but the individual mandate was no victory for progressives. There's no causefor mourning.

— by Shay O'Reilly


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