The Supreme Court rules for Obama
The endorsement of the health coverage law is a victory for the White House
A Supreme Court of the United States with a conservative majority — in which, however, strange alliances have formed — has endorsed the principal features of the health coverage law, the flagship project of Barack Obama’s presidency.
With less than five months to go until November, this ruling gives Obama a big political boost towards reelection. Above all, it ensures the United States will cease to be one of the last rich countries not to have quasi-universal health coverage — where losing one’s job often means being left without medical insurance and accident or illness means being bankrupted by the cost of treatment.
Obama was unsuccessful in his attempt to enact a form of public coverage, except that which now exists for the elderly, and Medicaid for the poor, which the individual states of the Union can decline to implement without being penalized, according to the ruling. What this law — which will enter into effect in 2014 — does oblige the states to implement, is that every citizen take out a minimum policy of private insurance, and that the insurance companies cannot apply discriminations on account of previous illnesses.
This ruling — the most important issued by the Supreme Court since 2000, when in a controversial ruling it gave the victory to George W. Bush against Al Gore — will help to give health coverage to tens of millions of citizens who now lack it, though not to the large numbers of illegal immigrants who live in the country.
While in the administration’s view it was a matter of the federal government’s constitutional competency over trade, the Supreme Court considers that the fine applicable for not possessing insurance, is equivalent to a tax, and that the Congress has the capacity to establish it. That is, it has been a ruling on the extent of federal powers, as was Monday’s ruling that annulled many of the harsher conditions of the Arizona state law against illegal immigration.
No previous president — though all those of the Democratic Party since Roosevelt had attempted it — has come so close to achieving universal health care. This time the medical insurance industry, immensely powerful in the United States, has not managed to impose its will.
But in the view of the Republican Party, and many citizens, the new law is an encroachment on the rights of the individual. Obama’s electoral adversary, Mitt Romney, has promised to repeal the law if he wins the election in November, and in his campaign will no doubt lay particular stress on the fact that the Supreme Court has termed it a tax, in order to arouse his tax-allergic voters.
For the moment — and though a great deal can happen between now and November 6 — the ruling is a considerable victory for Obama in the run-up to the November elections, which will turn particularly on issues of the economy and employment.