Richard Rathe, MD

Associate Professor of Family Medicine (ret.) and Medical Informatician

The Supreme Court and Healthcare Reform – Careful What You Wish For!

By •• Posted in Medicine

The US Supreme Court is about to hear arguments for and against the recent healthcare insurance reform law enacted by Congress. (aka The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare) At issue is the constitutionality of the individual mandate to buy health insurance. It is unclear whether they will set new precedent or rule on a much narrower basis. Their decision could have profound effects on the current law and future legislation. Partisans on both sides of this issue should welcome a broad decision and be ready to accept the consequences!

If the mandate is found to be constitutional, this strengthens the notion that private insurance has a significant role to play in our mixed healthcare system. It bolsters popular components of the law that limit insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, place lifetime caps on benefits, and allow young adult children to remain on their parents’ insurance. The real challenge—reining in the exploding costs of healthcare—is still ahead of us.

If the mandate is found to be unconstitutional, this is the best argument yet for a single payer system in the US. You cannot have a viable healthcare insurance system if a significant number of citizens have the ability to opt out when they’re young and healthy. Beware the law of unintended consequences! If it turns out to be unconstitutional to force broad participation in private insurance, can a public option be far behind? Careful what you wish for!

Update: Nice Summary of What’s at Stake on ProPublica!

July Update: Justice Roberts decided the mandate was actually a tax. So the law stands, but apparently this presages other limits to the Commerce Clause.

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