Wednesday, August 4, 2010

For Health Reform Law Advocates, “Missouri’ May Spell“Misery”

In an August 3 referendum, 71% of Missouri voters opposed the health reform law requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

The vote was largely symbolic. Missouri Republican voters outnumber Democrats. And the vote had no immediate practical effect since the individual mandate doesn’t take effect until 2014.

White House spokespersons dismiss the vote with a shrug, saying “settled law” favors the President. Federal officials adopted the attitude that the Missouri vote was frivolous and a minor nuisance.

Nevertheless, the Missouri vote, and an August 2 ruling by Henry Hudson, a Virginia District Judge, that the federal government could not dismiss a Virginia government lawsuit challenging the individual mandate, have political potency

The Missouri vote and the judge’s ruling run counter to the health reform law which calls for all Americans to buy coverage or pay a fine.

This disagreement sets the stage for appeals that may go all the way to the Supreme Court. The issue will be the constitutionality of the health reform law.

The stakes would be enormous. If the Supreme Court were to rule the individual mandate unconstitutional, health reform, as set forth in the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, could collapse like a house of cards. The basic premise of the Act is that requiring everyone to buy insurance is necessary to spread the cost over a large insurance pool so that all can be insured. All for one, and one for all.

I’m no lawyer. I'm no judge of the merits of the legal case of either the state or federal government. But I sense this matter will loom large as an issue in the November elections.

The states argue the health reform law is unconstitutional. People cannot be compelled to buy a commodity they do not want to buy.

The federal government argues the law is for the general welfare of the people, and “the government fully expects to prevail on the merits.” The law's defenders say the mandate falls within Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce and levy taxes.

The federal government may be right. But I am also aware of opinions on the other side, as expressed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli. He says the federal law is “an unprecedented form of federal action”and that “Obamacare was cobbled together in secret, on a partisan line vote literally in the dead of night on Christmas Eve.”

“This really wasn’t an effort to poke the president in the eye,” says State Senator Jim Lembke, a Republican. “First and foremost, this was about defining the role of state government and the role of federal government. Whether it’s here in Missouri with health care or in Arizona with illegal immigration, the states are going to get together on this now.”

Does the federal government has the power to force individuals to buy a consumer good? The law’s champions say big government has the right to do what it wants to do for the common good. If they are correct, there may be no limit to what the federal government cannot do, and the constitutional concept of limited government may no longer apply.

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