Saturday, February 5, 2011

Court should end health reform uncertainty

This week a federal judge in Florida ruled Congress violated the Constitution by requiring Americans to purchase health insurance. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson didn't simply take issue with that provision in the health reform law. He wrote the entire law "must be declared void." The Justice Department is appealing the ruling.

This underscores the need for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the new health reform law. It should do so quickly. The fate of the law cannot remain in limbo. Yet, that's the case as different courts come to different conclusions about certain provisions - or the entire law.
Imagine, for example, the implications of Monday's ruling in the real world. If the entire health reform law were voided, all parts of it - even the ones Americans are already taking advantage of - go away.

Iowa seniors can return checks the federal government sent them to help pay for medications. Young adults added to their parents' insurance plans could be dropped. States could say good-bye to new high-risk pools set up to immediately help the uninsured with pre-existing conditions. Iowa could return the federal grant money received to start implementing reform.
States are already working on complicated and time-intensive changes needed to set up insurance exchanges and expand Medicaid. Americans are planning to keep their kids on their insurance plans longer. Or they're mulling over ideas about starting a new business in a few years when they'll finally be able to buy affordable insurance on their own.

How is anyone - from state governments to families to insurance companies - supposed to plan when the future is uncertain? They can't.
A quick resolution to the numerous court challenges is needed. That means the Supreme Court needs to settle the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Then Congress and the Obama administration will sort through the implications of that ruling for the health reform law.

We have never believed Americans should be forced by the government to purchase health insurance. The mandate was especially troubling when the law relied on private-sector insurers to cover millions of Americans. People shouldn't be forced to purchase products from a private company.
But Democrats included the mandate anyway. It was no secret they were setting themselves up for legal challenges. But it may have been the bargaining chip to win support of insurance companies that wanted the government to make people buy what they were selling.

Now, with two federal courts ruling the mandate is unconstitutional, and two on the other side, the future of reform is unclear.

There is too much in the law that's too important to toss away. It protects people from being canceled by insurance companies when they get sick. It reduces the federal deficit. It improves the fiscal health of Medicare. It provides health insurance to millions of Americans who have gone without it for too long.
The health reform law is needed. And Americans need to know if it's going to be there for them.