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The Obamacare decision

Jun 26, 2015

There must be Republican strategists who are secretly relieved and happy that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the subsidies that help millions buy health insurance.

Had they ruled the other way, not only would millions of people have lost coverage, but it would have caused immense problems for a private health insurance market that has changed the way it does business to comply with the Affordable Care Act, usually known as Obamacare. Opponents were hoping the high court would invalidate the subsidies based largely on semantics.

They claimed only health care exchanges set up by the individual states qualified, not those set up by the federal government. Two-thirds of the states, including Michigan, are in fact using the federal exchanges, which are in large part health care directories, mostly because their GOP-dominated legislatures refused to create state ones. That ideological stubbornness cost Michigan taxpayers $31 million, by the way.

Yesterday’s decision was remarkable in a number of ways. Chief Justice John Roberts is deeply conservative.  But he wrote the majority opinion upholding the subsidies, and if you read between the lines, he seems to be essentially scolding Republican lawmakers for expecting the courts to bail them out.

He indicated the law needed to be read in its entire context, and said “Congress passed the ACA to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

In other words, if Obamacare has flaws, as everyone seems to agree it does, the legislative and executive branches should work together to fix them.

You might have expected to have heard Republican statesmen yesterday saying the time has now come to fix the flaws in Obamacare, and challenging the President to work with them to do so. But instead they all sounded as intransigent as a bunch of North Korean negotiators.

Freshman Michigan Congressman John Moolenaar lashed out at the Supreme Court for failing “to protect Americans from Obama’s broken health care law.” Speaker of the House John Boehner vowed to continue to repeal it, while Senator Ted Cruz said that every one of his fellow Republican presidential contenders needed to realize that next year’s presidential election was now “a referendum on the full repeal of Obamacare.”

What he seems to have forgotten is that we had such an election three years ago, and it didn’t turn out very well for his team. Millions are now happily insured under the Affordable Care Act. Repeal would be a practical impossibility, though Republicans still seem to think they can rally a majority by waving that banner.

What all this reminds me of is what happened eighty years ago, when Franklin D. Roosevelt created not only government jobs but a new program called Social Security.

Republicans were bitter and outraged at all this socialism, denounced FDR’s programs in language nearly identical to what they say today about Obamacare, and made the 1936 election a referendum on the New Deal. When the votes were counted, they had lost all but two tiny states. Republicans were left with fewer than a hundred seats in the house and less than twenty senators.

They then decided a more moderate approach might be a good idea.

We elect leaders to try and make things work. I think it’s about time they started.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.