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Lawsuits Advance on Repealing Health Care Law

We’re going to see the Affordable Care Act under trial in a court of law, based on the comments from the federal judge overseeing the case.

A federal judge said Tuesday he will likely dismiss only parts of a lawsuit by 20 states challenging the Obama administration’s health care overhaul as unconstitutional, though he didn’t specifically say what portions.

The Obama administration had asked U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson to dismiss the entire lawsuit. The states and the administration disagree over whether people should be required to have health insurance, and whether states should pay additional Medicaid costs not covered by the federal government.

The judge said he will issue a ruling by Oct. 14. The lawsuit is likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

This doesn’t mean Vinson will rule in favor of the states suing to block the law, it just means that there would be a trial. However, Vinson, a Reagan appointee, questioned a fundamental point the government made in their hearing, that all Americans participate in the health care system regardless of their health insurance status, and all of them are involved in the government’s authority to regulate commerce. IANAL, but I cannot conceive of a world where this is not true, unless there’s some American out there with immortality.

At least two cases where states are suing to repeal the health care law will probably go to trial; this one, where Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum went forum-shopping to find the friendliest judge to his cause, and the trial in Virginia, which has already dismissed an Obama Administration pleading to shut it down. Eventually, the Supreme Court will decide.

What this shows is that Democrats should not the health care system to improve just by passing the ACA and taking no further action. As Jacob Hacker says, they need to improve the law to keep it one step ahead of its foes:

It’s five years after passage, and the landmark reforms championed by a progressive president have survived two election campaigns in which opponents have called for their repeal. The leading critics in the business sector seem resigned to working with the new law. And the major implementation milestones have been met, though the slow rollout means that tangible benefits have only just become apparent. Yet all this is not enough to ensure that the law will achieve its key purposes. Without additional reforms, the act passed with much fanfare five years prior will not guarantee universal coverage. More important, it will remain inadequate in key areas, with the real, continuing danger that its limited funding will be outrun by skyrocketing costs.

It sounds like a forecast of where the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the landmark health-care legislation passed earlier this year, will be in 2015. But in fact it describes the actual historical standing of the Social Security Act on the law’s fifth anniversary in 1940. During the 1936 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Alf Landon had criticized the legislation as a “cruel hoax”-and gone down to defeat. By the end of 1937, the Supreme Court had affirmed the act’s constitutionality, and its “old-age insurance” component, which we now call Social Security, had been implemented successfully (although states were dragging their heels on other parts of the legislation, such as public assistance for the poor). But Social Security covered only half the population. Worse, its benefits were meager and not tied to inflation. As prices rose, those benefits were destined to fall, and they did. It would be another ten years before the program was put on a stronger foundation with the Social Security Amendments of 1950, the founding law for the modern program.

As I said in my article in Democracy, only a strong activist mass movement got the required changes to Social Security across the line. So too with the health care law.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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