Monday, March 26, 2012

Supreme Court Arguments on Health-Care Law

Supreme Court Arguments on Health-Care Law
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
March 25-31, 2012

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States hears arguments on the Affordable Care Act (health care reform) proposed by the Obama Administration. Since his inauguration, President Obama has framed health care reform as his signature domestic policy priority.

A brief recent history of health care reform in the United States of American reveals that our nation is one of few global nations, which allows private health-care companies to profit from providing health services. In most other industrialized countries around the world, government, referred to as a “single payer” system, provides health care. Under such a system all citizens qualify for health care paid for by the government. Good idea.

I believe health care should be a right of every citizen, rather than a privilege for those who can afford to pay for health services. I do not believe “health profiteers” commonly known as health care insurance companies should exist. Think about it: Why should we pay health insurance companies (in the middle) when paying directly to health providers such as doctors and hospitals is cheaper?

In 2009, the debate over health care reform in America briefly focused on a “public option” for Americans, which would have allowed citizens to choose purchasing government-issued health care or buy health care services from a private provider. Ultimately, the Obama Administration chose neither a single-payer system nor the public option, but offered a plan to financially penalize people who do not buy health insurance from private providers.

Immediately thereafter, individual states filed lawsuits asserting that the Obama plan would unconstitutionally force Americans to purchase health care. The states argued that the federal government was going too far, and it should allow states to choose how and from whom citizens would buy health care. Thus, sets up this week’s argument between the federal government and states in the Supreme Court. At issue, is the constitutionality of the “individual mandate”, and whether private insurance companies can refuse to cover people because of their medical history or charge higher premiums for those who have had previous conditions. In a practical sense, the arguments center on the power and authority between states and the federal government to regulate services to the people.

The portion within the Affordable Care Act that has garnered most attention is the “individual mandate.” Under the law, effective in 2014, the 33 million American citizens and their descendants who currently do not have health insurance must be covered. If not, people would have to pay a penalty, referred to as a “shared responsibility” payment. The name “shared responsibility” comes from the fact that medical payments of uninsured people who get sick are born by the government and taxpayers. Therefore, the proposed penalty provides an incentive for individuals to “share” in the responsibility of health care costs. The Obama Administration argues that individuals who pay the penalty are not in violation of the law. However, those who do not secure health insurance and do not pay the “shared responsibility” payment would be lawbreakers. Hmmm?

If the federal government can “strongly insist” that individuals purchase private health insurance it should rescind the anti-trust protections that health insurance companies now enjoy, allowing such companies to unfairly collude on health care premiums. In short, Congress should regulate excessive profits by health care companies as it does for other American industries. As long as there is a profit incentive within our nation’s health care industry America will remain a sick society.

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