In a remarkable act of either stupidity or brinksmanship, the Obama Administration challenged the US Supreme Court to either keep the federal individual mandate to buy health insurance or throw out with it some of the most important consumer protections in the federal health care overhaul.
The Justice Department argues in a brief to SCOTUS that if the mandate is unconstitutional, then insurance companies cannot be forced to sell health insurance to people regardless of their preexisting conditions or to price their policies based on factors other than a patient's medical condition. In other words, give us mandatory health insurance or take from sick patients the right to have access to insurance at an affordable price.
WTF? Has the White House lost its mind?
New York has a system with NO mandatory health insurance, but the very take-all-comers provision and community rating pricing, which excludes price gouging based on illness, that the Justice Department says cannot work without the mandate. Obama advocated for such a system while running for president and distinguishing himself from Hillary Clinton. Now, according to his Justice Department, it's just not possible?
New York may have high premiums, but so does Massachusetts, which has mandatory health insurance. Both states have recently adopted premium regulation to deal with reining in premiums. Consumer Watchdog's study earlier this year found premium regulation to be the essential component for health reform to work, not mandatory insurance.
Obama's attempt to force the hands of a Supreme Court that couldn't even be shamed out of throwing the 2000 election to George W. Bush seems to be more than legal sophistry. The President seems to have said to himself so many times that mandatory health insurance is necessary for any pro-consumer reform that his Justice Department believed it.
Lower courts have ruled the mandatory purchase provision -- which is wildly unpopular with public, unfair without premium regulation and possibly unconstitutional -- could be struck from the federal law without losing the pro-consumer provisions. Now the Justice Department just gave the Supreme Court the blade it needed to gut the prohibitions against insurance companies refusing to sell insurance to people who need it most.
Obama just handed the health insurance companies a huge pot of gold. He may just not know how to play poker, but the President just destroyed his own hand. If the Supreme Court knocks down the best of his Patient Protection Act, it's his own fault. And once again Americans will be the casualties. It doesn't get much worse than this in the annals of presidents who negotiate against themselves.
Jamie Court is president of Consumer Watchdog and author of The Progressive's Guide To Raising Hell: How To Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws And Get The Change We Voted For.