By JEFF JOHNSON
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court begins three days of hearings on the Affordable Care Act. Not since the 1965 Voting Rights Act has the court given a piece of legislation so much time for argument.
The stakes are high and emotions are high. Will the United States, with the most dysfunctional health care system in the industrialized world, continue on a path towards universal health care coverage or will the 100-year struggle to make health care a right and not a privilege begin anew?
The underlying premise of the case against the government, brought by 22 Republican State Attorney Generals — including Rob McKenna of Washington — and four Republican Governors, is quite simple. They argue that Congress exceeded constitutional authority by requiring individuals to buy health insurance coverage. According to this argument, forcing individuals to engage in economic activity violates the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Though the premise is simple, I believe that it is equally absurd. The government will make the argument that the “uncompensated consumption of health care” by those willingly or unwillingly without health insurance coverage is an economic activity that costs the country $43 billion annually.
Every time an individual without health insurance goes to the emergency room, this results in the cost of uncompensated care being tagged onto the premium costs for the insured. It is estimated that the cost for family coverage goes up by about a $ 1,000 a year. This is a lot of economic activity.
In a March 21 opinion column in the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse wrote, “People who don’t want to buy broccoli or a new car can eat brussel sprouts or take the bus, but those without health insurance are in commerce whether they like it not.”
Over the weekend the Tea Party held a rally on the Capitol lawn urging the repeal of what they call “Obamacare.” Not to be outdone a group of young activists, “Billionaires for Wealth Care,” joined in the protest, thanking the Tea Party members for supporting the profits they make through denying health care to millions and justifying the funding of the Tea Party by “billionaires.” The irony was not appreciated by all.
By the way, the third individual from the left, holding the “Billionaires for Wealth Care” sign, is my daughter, Danica Johnson.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.