My dear mother hated broccoli. She was healthy without it. She lived among the
hipsters in San Francisco’s SOMA district, only her perch was the senior housing
at Clementina Towers. Mom never had much money. But boy, did she have health
“My health is my wealth,” she was fond of saying, and when she wasn’t healthy,
she’d be off to see her fancy UC heart specialists.
My mom died before the Clintons attempted their push for reform, and before
Obama came up with his intricate compromise. Before then, Mom’s old fashioned
Medicare plan worked just fine.
So I know this crazy Supreme Court debate to overturn the Affordable Care Act
would have surely given her chest pains.
She’d ask, “Why can’t the government just extend Medicare to all?” (Seniors have
a way of getting to the point. Unlike lawyers.) Medicare is a single payer
system that doesn’t have people crying “Socialism!” It doesn’t get
conservatives’ dander up about individual liberty and the broad powers of the
And it works. Everyone gets the care they need.
If only mom were alive and in charge.
Listening to the audio and reading the transcripts of Tuesday’s hearing about
the “individual mandate” was just plain maddening.
The argument is about whether the government can force the people to buy health
Now, the thought of the government forcing any of us to do anything makes even
But conservatives and anti-Obamaists have taken this to a new level. They
believe the Affordable Care Act’s use of the Commerce Clause is an affront to
The justices this week seemed willing to play along with the “And then what’s
If Congress can make us buy health care, then it can make us eat broccoli,
suggested Justice Scalia.
Chief Justice Roberts was concerned about making us buy cell phones for
And Justice Alito was hung up about burial insurance.
They all missed the point. U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., said
the Commerce Clause applies because “health insurance is a means of paying for
health care…and broccoli is not the means of paying for anything else.”
(Although I’d like to see someone pay for a proctology exam with some broccoli.)
Verrilli said the government is merely regulating a market that already exists.
Everyone needs some kind of care.
And when people don’t have care, the costs rise prohibitively and get subsidized
by those of us who do pay for health care.
Those who use the phrase “Obamacare” as an epithet have their ire misplaced.
They should be angry at all those who are driving the cost up, those freeloaders
who dare get sick without health care.
Michelle Bachmann and her Tea Party ilk are so out to get Obama, they’ve been
blinded. If they need a reference for their hate, they should see these
“freeloaders” as the health care version of the “undocumented.”
Of course, it’s a different brand of “undocumented,” as unfortunately,
immigrants without papers still aren’t covered by the ACA.
But up to 38 million new people are covered. Since the Affordable Care Act was
passed, 2.5 million young adults–including 97,000 Asian Americans–have been able
to remain on their parents’ insurance plans. The Asian & Pacific
Islander American Health Forum says 2.7 million Asian Americans have received
free preventive services, including cancer screenings.
And we’re not yet to 2014 when the plan fully kicks in.
But it can all get gutted by the court, and based on ideology alone, it seems
that Justices Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Thomas are more than willing to do so.
They’re offset by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor, whose
questions seem to indicate support for the plan.
Breyer, a Lowell High grad, was first to defend, especially on the issue if
Congress could create commerce where previously none existed.
“Well, yes, I thought the answer to that was, since McCulloch versus Maryland,
when the Court said Congress could create the Bank of the United States which
did not previously exist, which job was to create commerce that did not
previously exist, since that time the answer has been yes,” Breyer said.
“Can the government, in fact, require you to buy cell phones or buy burials
that, if we propose comparable situations, if we have, for example, a uniform
United States system of paying for every burial such as Medicare Burial,
Medicaid Burial, CHIP Burial, ERISA Burial, and Emergency Burial beside the side
of the road, and Congress wanted to rationalize that system, wouldn’t the answer
be, yes, of course, they could.”
Ah, yes, but we don’t have five Breyers.
The final tally isn’t expected until June, but I see it deadlocked at 4-4, with
Kennedy still wondering about being forced to buy health care.
Said Kennedy: “The reason this is concerning is because it requires the
individual to do an affirmative act. In the law of torts, our tradition, our law
has been that you don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in
danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to
stop him, absent some relation between you.
And there are some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally
the rule. And here the government is saying that the Federal Government has a
duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from
what we have in previous cases, and that changes the relationship of the Federal
Government to the individual in a very fundamental way.”
The government’s lawyer objected, saying that “virtually everybody participates”
in the health care market. The government is merely regulating their
But it all seems to hinge on Kennedy. And from Day 2 of the proceedings, he
sounds like he’s willing to let the blind man walk in front of the car.