Ballot Watch: Obamacare
This is Ballot Watch. Today is the fourth in the series of articles on the upcoming ballot initiatives and some key local elections. Some of these will cover topics in common with multiple states, while others will look at a state level.
Pundits used to say that President Obama would not (or, sometimes they claimed, “could not”) run for reëlection on his record as President. They specifically claimed he could not (or would not) run on his greatest singular legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Of course, most of these pundits also claimed this election would be a “referendum” on the President’s first term, not so much a “choice election” where the public was presented with an option between visions for the future.
Confounding these particular pundits, President Obama is, in fact, running on his record, and is pressing the case for Obamacare. Even Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has presented the upcoming election as a “choice” (“You are entitled to the clearest possible choice, because the time for choosing is drawing near…”). The Democratic defense on these issues is having an effect. Just this last Sunday, Mitt Romney had to admit there were many things he “liked” in health care reform, after having repeatedly promised to “repeal” it, on “day one.”
A number of states, apparently in an effort to affect the vote this November, have ballot initiatives dealing with Obamacare. What will be the effect of these measures on the upcoming election? What practical effect might they have on the future of health care reform in America?
Montana, Wyoming, Alabama, and Florida will all have votes on amendments to their state Constitutions claiming in various ways to nullify or modify the ACA’s individual choice between carrying insurance or paying a token fine on their federal income taxes. These proposed amendments would have no lawful effect if enacted. A state cannot constitutionally block a federal law. In other words, these states cannot prevent the federal government from assessing the tax penalty on individuals in their state do not purchase insurance.
Of course, there are relatively few people who would be affected by the potential penalty, since most Americans already have insurance through an employer. The main effect of this provision is to increase the size of the insurance pool, mostly by bringing in healthy people who might otherwise think they don’t need insurance. Adding healthy people to the insurance pool increases the likelihood of lower prices for everyone. Thus, only few people are affected, the impact of bringing them in would be beneficial, and these amendments would almost certainly be invalidated in federal court. That being the case, it’s not clear why the state legislatures are wasting time and money by putting these questions on the ballot, except for rather cynical partisan politicking.
Missouri is going in a slightly different direction. There will be a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would prohibit any state agency from setting up an insurance exchange such as required by the ACA, without being specifically authorized to do so by state law. This is an apparent attempt to prevent Democratic Governor Jeremiah Wilson “Jay” Nixon from complying with the Affordable Care Act. The amendment would further specifically authorize any “taxpayer of this state or any member of the general assembly with legal standing” to sue any government official for allegedly violating the provisions of the amendment.
The ACA encourages states to set up “insurance exchanges” where citizens can compare policies from various insurance companies and choose one so as to comply with the requirement to purchase insurance. If a state doesn’t set up such an exchange, the ACA allows the federal government to set one up for use by citizens of that state. The Missouri amendment would prohibit any state agency (again, read: “Governor Nixon”) from cooperating with this process in any way, unless specifically authorized to do so by the state legislature.
None of this would prevent Obamacare from going into effect in Missouri. It would, perversely, ensure that the “federal takeover of health care” that Republicans claim to oppose would progress one giant step forward in Missouri, thanks to the dedicated work of Republican lawmakers. That is, this action would force the federal government to set up the exchange in Missouri without any input from any Missouri official.
Despite having lost the battle in Congress to enact health care reform, and despite having lost the question in the Courts all the way up to and including the Supreme Court of the United States, Republicans in various states are still trying use health care reform as a wedge issue. Will it work?
It might. Millions of Americans are seeing benefits from Obamacare. The ACA adds eight years to the solvency of Medicare, thus ensuring Medicare’s existence until at least 2024. Obamacare closes the Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole”, resulting already in hundreds of dollars in savings each year for America’s seniors. Obamacare eliminates lifetime limits on insurance benefits, saving thousands of lives and tens of thousands of bankruptcies. The ACA now requires insurance companies to rebate customers who are overcharged for their insurance, and many thousands of Americans have received rebate checks. Women will no longer be charged more for insurance simply because they are women. Children can no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Young adults up to age 26 can now remain on their parents’ insurance.
This is just a small sample of the improvements in health care and health insurance that Americans are already seeing. More are coming. Republican efforts to repeal or oppose or inhibit Obamacare may well act as a wedge issue in this year’s election. The question is — Which way will the scalpel cut?
- Dems wear ‘Obamacare’ label proudly (politico.com)
- Why Oh Why Did the Republicans Nominate This Clown? (delong.typepad.com)
- Re: Romney and Obamacare (nationalreview.com)
- Mitt Romney has yet another Obamacare clarification (dailykos.com)
- Romney: ‘There Are A Number Of Things I Like’ About Obamacare (thinkprogress.org)
- STUDY: Obamacare Led To Record Drop In Uninsured Young Adults (thinkprogress.org)
- Is Romney ‘Preparing for a Major Fold’ on Health Care? (economistsview.typepad.com)
- Logarchism » Ballot Watch: Mountain States
- Logarchism » Ballot Watch: Plains States
- Logarchism » Ballot Watch: The South (Part 2, The Swinging South)
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson