CAN CONGRESS CREATE COMMERCE? That's the question that was asked today in the United States Supreme Court with reference to the Affordable Care Act.
While it was acknowledged that Congress can regulate commerce, it was not accepted that Congress can create commerce. The basic question is whether or not the creation of the Individual Mandate creates commerce. It is this concept, requiring persons to purchase a product, that opponents argue is a step too far. Can government require the purchase of specific products on the grounds that they're good for us, e.g., the now famous broccoli argument, or exercise. What would prevent government from requiring the purchase of this or that vegetable if it were deemed good for the general health? Why not require everyone to buy a gym membership and then police the purchasers to be sure they exercise? The argument is that so doing would be an unconstitutional extension of federal authority even if the argument that "it's good for you" is correct.
WHAT IF THE LAW IS STRUCK DOWN? Will we then get return to policies that allow disqualification from health insurance because of pre-existing conditions?
WHAT IF THE LAW IS UPHELD BUT THEN WE TURN OUT TO HAVE A SHORTAGE OF DOCTORS? A shortage of 20,000 primary care doctors is predicted over the next few years. To this question we have an answer, i.e., government will allow non-physicians to practice medicine by setting up alternative credentialing processes that will allow persons with "alternative credentials" to practice (after all, in stiff white laboratory coats don't they all look alike anyway?).
WHAT ABOUT PIECEMEAL DISMANTLING OR ENABLEMENT OF THE ACA? The court could rule in such a way that insurance companies are precluded from denying insurance to persons with pre-existing conditions. The court could throw out the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) which many of us see as a thinly veiled ruse to deny access to care without invoking formal rationing (see our previous columns wherein the IPAB as a cost-control mechanism is discussed).
SOME PUNDITS THINK THAT BOTH OBAMA AND ROMNEY ARE ON THE ROPES, Obama because the ACA is largely his doing, Romney because he developed a similar plan in Massachusetts. Although Romney is campaigning against the ACA on a federal level, he avers that so doing within individual states is a matter of states rights, not unlike mandatory automobile insurance. On the other hand, Obama has let several of his health-care promises slip away, e.g., "I will ensure that no government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need."
The IPAB was inserted into the ACA for cost control, in short, to stand "between you and the care you need." But for now, the ringing question is whether or not cramming mandatory health insurance down our throats is a wise extension of government policy or an unconstitutional creation of commerce as opposed to a regulation of commerce. Stay tuned.
"What Obama should've said about health reform," Robert L. Weinmann, MD, THE HILL NEWSPAPER, Washington, DC, 16 September 2009