Last Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the federal government’s healthcare reform package has left many local residents expressing frustration and anger. The day after the court handed down their ruling on President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform package, the STAR spoke with several members of the community about their opinions on the court’s decision.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2010. Despite opposition by Congressional Republicans and many other Americans, the healthcare reform legislation was given the Supreme Court’s seal of approval in last week’s ruling.
Last Friday, the STAR conducted a sidewalk survey with several individuals in Downtown Elizabethton. The majority of those who participated stated they disapprove of the Supreme Court’s edict.
Carol Price of Roan Mountain commented she disagrees with the decision, noting it is unconstitutional for the federal government to force Americans to purchase any type of goods or services. She also added some type of reform is needed, since many Americans cannot afford to buy insurance for medical coverage through their employer or on their own. “I have a son who can’t afford it. I can’t afford to buy it. I don’t have insurance right now. If they would quit trying to get people to go to the doctor for every little thing, it would make the cost of medical services go down,” Price said.
Kathy Wilcox of Elizabethton has spent most of her adult life working in the healthcare industry. Wilcox does not believe the American people should be forced to purchase insurance to pay for medical expenses. “We live in America. My husband and I have worked all of our life to provide for when we retire. I’m now partially retired. I don’t like paying insurance for people who won’t work. I have a problem paying for people who won’t pay for themselves.”
In addition to the sidewalk survey, several individuals also posted comments or sent messages to the Elizabethton STAR’s Facebook page. The majority of those who contacted the paper expressed a negative opinion on the outcome of the case.
Laughing Bear of Elizabethton commented, “America: Love it or leave it. For the first time ever, I am seriously considering (leaving). This isn’t the same America that I once loved.” The self-professed libertarian was not the only person who communicated outrage about the decision.
Jeremy Ayers of Elizabethton wrote, “I am saddened at our nation. It goes to show even the United States Supreme Court can be bought by the tyranny that is the Obama administration.”
Jesse Overbey of Johnson City expressed a similar sentiment. “(The government) is destroying the middle class, making more people dependent on government, sucking more money from the private sector to feed the municipalities and public employees. All we have to show for it are bad schools and really good roads,” Overbey argued.
A few individuals, however, said they agreed with the court’s 5-4 decision that upheld most of the federal legislation.
Terry Uland of Farmersville, Texas, wrote to the STAR, “I completely agree with the court’s decision and understand the position of the Chief Justice. The Affordable Care Act was legislation passed by a majority vote of duly-elected representatives in both houses and was executed by a duly-elected President. While the constitutionality of the individual mandate is questionable under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, and thus, overturned, it is still constitutional as a tax, which Congress has the power to levy.”
During their arguments before the Supreme Court in March, attorneys representing the federal government reversed earlier statements made by the Obama Administration that the financial penalties for those who do not purchase healthcare insurance are not a tax. In their arguments before the court, the attorneys changed that position, stating the penalties can legally be defined as a tax.
In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with the government’s case. Joining with the four liberal Justices, Roberts wrote the Constitution does grant Congress the authority to levy taxes, meaning the legislation can be upheld. “The payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance; the payment is not limited to willful violations, as penalties for unlawful acts often are; and the payment is collected solely by the (Internal Revenue Service) through the normal means of taxation,” Roberts stated in the majority opinion.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to define the financial penalties as a tax, some political pundits questioned whether or not Congress followed constitutional guidelines for legal taxation. According to Article I, Section VII of the U.S. Constitution, “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments, as on other bills.”
In the case of the Affordable Care Act, Democratic House leadership chose to substitute and conform to the Senate version of the bill. The decision to use the Senate’s version of the proposed legislation was made after many conservative-leaning Democrats from the Midwest and the South expressed their opposition to the lower chamber’s healthcare reform bill.
By voting on a revenue bill originating from the Senate, some believe the law may not be valid, despite the Supreme Court’s final ruling.
Lesley Swann of the Tenth Amendment Center said the Affordable Care Act is an unlawful and an unconstitutional expansion of federal power. Swann commented, “Nothing in the United States Constitution provides the federal government with the ability or the authority to institute Obamacare. It is completely illegal and unconstitutional.”
Founded in 2006, the Tenth Amendment Center’s mission is dedicated to preserve and to protect Tenth Amendment freedoms through education and advocacy efforts. “The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power,” Swann said. “We place a huge part of our mission on advocating for a decentralized federal government, which was the original intention of the Founding Fathers.”
The court’s judgment on PPACA has greater ramifications than the expansion of federal power into the healthcare industry. By ruling the healthcare reform legislation’s penalties for not purchasing health insurance is a tax, the law will lead to the largest tax increase in the nation’s history.
By the time the legislation is fully implemented in 2016, the tax penalties will come to a total of $695 for each individual, or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater for those who do not abide by the federal mandate to buy insurance coverage.
In a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of the Affordable Care Act is estimated to expend $1.76 trillion in federal funding over the next ten years. A 2009 study by the CBO had initially indicated the ten-year cost at approximately $900 billion.
The Affordable Care Act’s tax could also have a detrimental effect on business owners. If a company employing more than 50 workers does not offer health insurance, the federal government will mandate a tax burden of $2,000 per employee. For companies who do offer coverage, the law does not necessarily offer immunity from tax penalties. Companies providing a subsidy to full-time workers to purchase health insurance from a government-sponsored cooperative may still face penalties of up to $3,000 per employee.
While the tax could have a negative impact on small businesses, many Obamacare opponents believe managers and business owners may choose to drop their health coverage. During an appearance in Elizabethton this week, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey argued that the cost of insurance through most plans can cost over $5,000 per employee per year. He noted his concern that some employers will choose to pay the tax penalty since it represents a smaller burden on their annual operating costs.
Analyzing the overall impact to the U.S. economy, some experts believe the rising cost of medical care is based on the simple rule of supply-and-demand. George Mason University Professor of Economics Dr. Walter E. Williams has argued that the government’s intervention in the medical field has also impacted the rising cost of medical care. Even before PPACA’s mandates go into effect, Williams noted that the federal government contributes close to 50 percent of expenditures related to healthcare costs. He believes the government’s involvement in the industry has led to increased rules and regulations on doctors, hospitals and other care providers, thereby contributing to rising medical costs.
One of the greatest concerns for those opposed to the Affordable Care Act is the ultimate impact upon the medical industry and consumers. Many Americans who are currently arguing against the legislation are basing their opposition on what Swann calls “the politicians’ hidden agenda. Washington insiders never reveal their endgame. For most of the last century, politicians have slowly expanded the role of the federal government through incremental steps. When it comes to this issue, the next logical step is a nationally-operated healthcare system. It is obvious we are heading in that direction.”
Citing the historical precedent of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Swann said state governments across the country must question the legality of the Affordable Care Act.
Secretly written by Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions argued the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. The four separate laws passed by Congress granted the federal government the ability to deport or apprehend resident aliens who were citizens of nations at war with America.
In response to the bills, Jefferson and Madison wrote that state governments have the right to declare federal acts as unlawful or unconstitutional. The concept, which has since been referred to as “nullification,” has been controversial since the two Virginian statesmen wrote the resolutions.
Swann added, “In the resolution, Jefferson wrote, ‘whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.’ That statement can also be made regarding Obamacare. The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The federal government was created by the original thirteen states. Any power it has is obtained by the states and the American People. Our governors and state legislatures need to take a stand against this unwarranted expansion of federal power by refusing to acknowledge the legality and constitutionality of Obamacare.”