National Consumers League

Health care in America on trial this week


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director This is a very big week for health care in America. The constitutionality of Affordable Care Act is being argued in the Supreme Court. This landmark legislation that provides near universal health care in America after many decades of failed attempts – and that groups like NCL have been working for throughout our history- is in hot dispute. Despite the fact that the United States remains the only Western country that doesn’t provide universal health care for its citizens, this one issue has generated more noise – on the right in particular – than practically anything else. This highly unusual argument is going to be spread over three days. Tuesday the court will hear from proponents and opponents on the individual mandate’s constitutionality. The law’s opponents include 26 states that are arguing that Congress has no power under the Constitution to order people to buy anything-and that if the law stands, Congress will have sweeping new authority to dictate our behavior. Also on the table is whether – if the individual mandate is struck, and I hope it isn’t because the law really doesn’t work without it – whether the rest of the law falls down. One lower court has ruled that individual mandate is unconstitutional, but several others said it could remain. The thing is, the public wants people to be covered even if they have a pre-existing condition and parents want their kids covered til 26, especially since many young people don’t have jobs. Both are guarantees in the ACA. The Court will also review requirements that poor people be covered by the states, and imposes new requirements on the states to ensure that this coverage is available. I agree with those who believe that this case may be the most important set of rulings since FDR’s New Deal legislation was challenged at the Supreme Court. Florence Kelley, NCL’s first leader, was stymied in many of her initiatives – minimum wage, maximum hours and child labor laws when the Court struck such laws she worked so hard to get enacted. (though she – and Justice Brandeis won the right for women to be covered by maximum hours laws in Muller v. Oregon) But ultimately, justice won out and all are laws and protections we cherish today. I can only hope that the Affordable Healthcare Act withstands the challenges and survives intact. But if we lose this round, and I don’t think we will, I expect that justice will ultimately win out and Americans will enjoy universal health care at long last.