June 28--The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a victory for those who believe in fairness in a health-care system that has too many flaws. The law will help provide coverage for the 50 million uninsured Americans, and stop insurance companies from limiting coverage to those with "pre-existing conditions."
The reform also will help contain health-care costs, which have spiraled out of control.
The legal case against the reform law was mostly about the "individual mandate" that required Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Many thought the law would be rejected by the court under the Commerce Clause. But the court's majority went in another legal direction, calling the penalty for those without insurance a tax. Congress has the ability to tax, making the mandate legal under that interpretation.
The 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts as the swing vote, reveals that the high court is as divided as the American people on the boundaries of powers between the federal government and the states -- and the role of the court itself in policing those boundaries. That conversation clearly will continue as we move toward the November presidential election.
Roberts, a conservative, sided with the court's liberal bloc to let the law stand. In upholding the law passed by Congress and signed by the president in March 2010, Chief Justice Roberts wrote an elegant opinion on judicial restraint, properly understood.
Roberts made it clear that the court should allow the people of the United States through their elected branches to make decisions: "Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them."
Roberts concluded: "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."
That is our system. People who don't like the Affordable Care Act can go to the polls in November and elect representatives and a president who promise to change it. Supporters of the law can vote for those who will back it.
We believe the law is a huge improvement on the status quo, although it certainly is not perfect. Critics want to continue a health-care system that's costly, unfair and unworkable for a large segment of Americans.
But because the reform law is so sweeping, there are bound to be unintended consequences that must be remedied in the legislative process. There also are many aspects of the law that are not fully understood, and we need to know how they will impact individuals, businesses and health-care providers. Health-care reform is a work in progress, and Congress and the president should not hesitate in making any needed fixes.
But today, the Supreme Court has upheld a landmark law, and that is a good thing for the nation, and for California, the largest health-care market in the nation.
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