Obamacare: Is It Legal?

Recently, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ruled that forcing people to buy health insurance (or pay a fine) is unconstitutional. Although further judicial review is pending, and several courts have ruled differently, this decision just may be the death knell for President Obama’s plan to provide insurance for the nation’s uninsured. The judge’s ruling was as literal an interpretation of the Constitution as one can imagine. Had the health care bill used different words and levied a tax (of equal amount instead of the fine) on all Americans and provided a tax credit (also equal to the fine) for those with health insurance, nothing significant and of substance would have changed from the bill, and as a result the judge would have had no objection.

It is unfortunate the legal system is arranged the way it is. Legal parlance is functionally confusing. Regardless, even if the health care law adheres to the original language upon appeal to the Supreme Court, the Republicans have a fail-safe plan to prevent the law from being implemented: blocking the program’s funding. This is a very demoralizing prospect to face, for if you and your family are the next ones to join the ranks of the 50 million uninsured Americans to date, it remains that self-insurance doesn’t adequately substitute for actual insurance when it comes to paying exorbitant health care bills.

Still, Obama’s health care law is not the best fix to our health care woes. For one, it adds another expensive entitlement in the form of federally subsidized health exchanges, with no solid cost controls. This is in addition to Uncle Sam’s continually skyrocketing Medicare and Medicaid obligations. Moreover, given the way the health-exchange subsidies and employer fines are structured, the law will likely lead to the unraveling of employer-based health care, leaving the government paying the bills of the entire population.

The way the current system is arranged in the private, employer- based health care system is heavily subsidized — $200 billion through federal and state income tax breaks. Medicare and Medicaid cost federal and state governments another $962 billion. And the uninsured are now being covered, albeit poorly, through emergency room and other services, at another $323 billion in public expense.

In sum, our government health care spending is $1.5 trillion, or more than 10 percent of gross domestic product. We’re spending another $1 trillion privately, making our total bill 17 percent of GDP. In reference to our current health care system and Obamacare, as the health care law is called, the term “socialized medicine” is oft mentioned. This may be for good reason as our government is heavily involved in health care — paying approximately 60 cents of each dollar. Left on their own, the private insurers will cherry-pick the healthy and charge astronomical premiums for those with pre-existing conditions. This is why one in six Americans is uninsured.

It doesn’t matter what name the system is given, because we can all agree that everyone needs a basic health plan, that everyone who can pay for health insurance should pay and that those with pre-existing conditions shouldn’t face higher insurance costs. We want universal health insurance. What we don’t want is inefficient and unaffordable universal health insurance. Obamacare, constitutionally or not, delivers both, which explains its reception.

Sahil Batra is a fourth-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at sbatra@uci.edu.