Our Opinion: Health mandate construed as permissible tax
Friday, June 29, 2012
Now, the health care complications begin in earnest.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a critical provision of the Affordable Care Act, championed by President Obama and commonly referred to as Obamacare.
The provision requires everyone to be covered by health insurance, a directive challenged in court largely on the basis that government has no authority to mandate what people must acquire.
In a 5-4 decision, the court construed the mandate as a tax. And, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”
For the moment, let’s focus strictly on whether the court ruling was appropriate.
Ignore whether you support or oppose the health care law.
Also ignore the political leanings of the justices and the political affiliations of the presidents who appointed them. (Although, for the record, four conservative Republican appointees opposed Obamacare and four liberal Democratic appointees upheld it).
The favorable, swing vote from Roberts, a conservative Republican appointee, turned on the interpretation of the mandate as a tax.
If you agree with his interpretation, you also must acknowledge the Constitution empowers Congress to levy a tax. Agreeing with the interpretation also eliminates any criticism the ruling was a product of “activist” judges.
Disagreement with the interpretation also is reasonable, based on the concept that a tax typically is associated with a fixed amount, rate or schedule. On that basis, the ruling is a loose, or activist, definition of tax.
Regardless of interpretation, the ruling opens the floodgates for the criticism that the heath care act will impose a huge tax increase.
Turning back to politics, expect a flood of tax-and-spend criticism from Republicans and from Obama’s GOP challenger, Mitt Romney.
Also expect complications as states attempt to implement the health insurance exchanges required by the mandate.
The Supreme Court ruling provided a much-anticipated answer on a key provision of the health care act. The ruling also raises numerous questions and creates political ramifications for the months ahead.
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