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Krugman: Healthcare Ruling Could Prove Supreme Court is Motivated by Politics, Not Constitution

 
 
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Paul Krugman writes in his latest New York Times article that the public may soon lose faith in the Supreme Court.  Striking down the healthcare mandate would clearly be a political -- not constitutional -- decision.  What's more, Krugman writes, the Supreme Court would be doubly wrong to strike down the mandate, because whether or not the Justices believe it, the mandate serves the people.

Krugman says: 

Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has. 

There are at least two ways to address this reality — which is, by the way, very much an issue involving interstate commerce, and hence a valid federal concern. One is to tax everyone — healthy and sick alike — and use the money raised to provide health coverage. That’s what Medicare and Medicaid do. The other is to require that everyone buy insurance, while aiding those for whom this is a financial hardship.

Krugman goes on to explain why it is nonsensical to rule the mandate "unconstitutional":

Are these fundamentally different approaches? Is requiring that people pay a tax that finances health coverage O.K., while requiring that they purchase insurance is unconstitutional? It’s hard to see why — and it’s not just those of us without legal training who find the distinction strange. Here’s what Charles Fried — who was Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general — said in a recent interview with The Washington Post: “I’ve never understood why regulating by making people go buy something is somehow more intrusive than regulating by making them pay taxes and then giving it to them.”

Indeed, conservatives used to like the idea of required purchases as an alternative to taxes, which is why the idea for the mandate originally came not from liberals but from the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. (By the way, another pet conservative project — private accounts to replace Social Security — relies on, yes, mandatory contributions from individuals.)

So has there been a real change in legal thinking here? Mr. Fried thinks that it’s just politics — and other discussions in the hearings strongly support that perception.

But it’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding — and to worry that the nation’s already badly damaged faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to stand above politics is about to take another severe hit.

Read the full article here.

AlterNet / By Angela Lee

Posted at March 30, 2012, 5:11am