WASHINGTON — Death, taxes and now health insurance? Having a medical plan or else paying a fine is about to become another certainty of American life, unless the Supreme Court says no.
People are split over the wisdom of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but they are nearly united against its requirement that everybody have insurance. The mandate is intensely unpopular even though more than 8 in 10 people in the United States already are covered by workplace plans or government programs such as Medicare. When the insurance obligation kicks in, not even two years from now, most people won’t need to worry or buy anything new.
Nonetheless, Americans don’t like being told how to spend their money, not even if it would help solve the problem of the nation’s more than 50 million uninsured.
Can the government really tell us what to buy?
Federal judges have come down on both sides of the question, leaving it to the Supreme Court to sort out. The justices are allotting an unusually long period, six hours over three days, in sessions that started Monday, to hear arguments challenging the law’s constitutionality.
Their ruling, expected in June, is shaping up as a historic moment in the century-long quest by reformers to provide affordable health care for all.
Many critics and supporters alike see the insurance requirement as the linchpin of Obama’s health care law: Take away the mandate and the wheels fall off.
Politically it was a wobbly construction from the start. It seems half of Washington has flip-flopped over mandating insurance.
One critic dismissed the idea this way: “If things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house and that would solve the problem of homelessness.” That was Obama as a presidential candidate, who was against health insurance mandates before he was for them.
Once elected, Obama decided a mandate could work as part of a plan that helps keep premiums down and assists those who can’t afford them.
To hear Republicans rail against this attack on personal freedom, you’d never know the idea came from them.
Its model was a Massachusetts law signed