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Friday, February 25, 2011

No More Free Rides, Says Judge

Ron Pollack

Executive Director

Originally posted on The Huffington Post:

Yesterday afternoon, a third federal district judge ruled that the personal responsibility clause in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing organization, filed the suit against the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of five individuals who intend to refuse to buy health insurance, claiming that the individual responsibility provision is unconstitutional and violates their religious freedom. U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Gladys Kessler rejected this argument, stating that this provision is authorized by the commerce clause in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution.

In her opinion, Judge Kessler said that not buying health insurance was an active decision on the consumer’s part and has serious consequences, as it ends up affecting those who do have insurance. She noted that uncompensated costs are passed on to insured consumers and that ultimately raises premiums.

In a footnote, she writes,

In short, those who choose not to purchase health insurance will ultimately get a “free ride” on  the backs of those Americans who have made responsible choices to provide for the illness we all must face at some point in our lives.

And she’s right. Cost-shifting increases family premiums by more than $1,000 per year.

With respect to court challenges, the judicial scoreboard now stands at 3-1-1. That’s three full substantive victories for the Act, one partial victory-partial loss, and one defeat -- plus a dozen procedural victories.

And while the media has flocked to cover judicial rulings against the Affordable Care Act in both Virginia and Florida, it’s important to note that those cases are no more important than those that have ruled fully in support of the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality. But opponents of reform don’t want you to know that. They’d like you to believe that rulings against the Affordable Care Act have more significance than those upholding the law.

The sad reality for opponents of health reform is that scoreboard is now 3-1-1 in favor of upholding the Affordable Care Act: three wins, one loss (Judge Vinson’s decision in Florida striking down the whole law) and one partial victory (Judge Hudson in Virginia struck down the individual responsibility provision but left the rest of the law in place).

Ultimately, it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of the law.

Here’s a reminder of just a few of the benefits Americans could lose if conservatives succeed in striking down the Affordable Care Act:

  • Insurance companies could continue to game the system, accepting premiums from consumers for years, and then rescinding their policy when they get sick or need coverage the most. Additionally, they could continue to spend fewer of our premiums dollars on actual medical care, instead spending it on things like administrative costs, advertising, CEO compensation, and profits.
  • Women could be charged more simply because of their sex. Before health care reform, women in the individual market could be charged as much as 140% more than men just because they’re female. And what’s more, some insurance companies could get away with denying a woman health care because she was a victim of domestic abuse.
  • Young adults, who graduate college only to find a job market that has little room for them, would no longer have the option of staying on their parents’ plan until age 26. That means they’d have to risk going without coverage or fork over what little savings they have to purchase health insurance.
  • Seniors would no longer be able to receive preventive care services free-of-charge and would no longer be protected from the gap in prescription coverage called the "doughnut hole."
  • Small businesses would lose the tax credit subsidies they now receive to make health insurance coverage for their workers affordable.

We can’t go back to that system. And much to the chagrin of conservatives, who have tried to gain political points by preventing implementation of the law at every turn, the Affordable Care Act will continue to be implemented across the country — benefitting millions of Americans every single day.