Health Care Reform: The U.S. Supreme Court vs. the Court of Public Opinion

The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will review the constitutionality of President Obama's individual mandate that will require Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, Adam Liptak wrote in the New York Times. The Court will hear oral arguments in March 2012 and a decision is expected in June during the showdown of the presidential election.

If the Supreme Court defers to elected officials in the executive and legislative branches and determines that the individual mandate is constitutional, the decision then moves to the court of public opinion. That court will be divided based on those who have to pay for health insurance from their own pocket and those who don't.

Consider this. While many individuals and families will be eligible for substantial federal subsidies to defray the cost of health insurance, others will not. A single individual who is 59 years old and earns $48,000 may end up paying $10,172 a year for insurance and up to an additional $6,250 in out-of-pocket costs, or one-third of their income, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's calculator that estimates how much premiums could cost in 2014.

Those who have to pay huge chunk of their income for health insurance won't care about the Supreme Court's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution; they will care about the constitution of their own wallets and checking accounts.

A mandate to buy a product whose price will be hugely expensive and uncontrollable is the real problem that no one wants to talk about. Premium costs are fueled by the medical industrial complex and rampant overtreatment, as reported in The Treatment Trap.

The federal government does not have the authority to limit premium increases. That authority resides in the states, and only 26 of them and the District of Columbia have the power to limit rate hikes.

Maine is one of the states that can veto rate increases but the health insurance industry is chipping away at that authority. Earlier this year, a Republican-sponsored health insurance law passed in Maine that allows insurers to duck future state-level reviews of their premium increases if they are less than 10 percent a year and if they spend at least 80 percent of their premiums on claims, John Richardson of the Portland Press Herald reported. How many people do you know that gets a 10 percent raise every year?

This coup by the health insurers is apparently not enough. In a court battle in Bangor, Anthem Health Plans of Maine is suing the state because it says that regulators violated state law and the U.S. Constitution when it reduced the 3 percent premium increase it requested. The state says that it has the authority to reduce the company's profit to keep premiums affordable for Mainers.

What happens in Bangor won't stay in Bangor. That's why the National Association of Insurance Commissioners filed a brief in support of the state. Writing in the Washington Post, Julie Appleby quoted the Commissioners' brief which said that a decision in favor of the insurance company "has the potential to destabilize a key aspect of insurance regulation and will have far reaching effects impacting all states."

If the industry is successful in Maine, it will challenge other states' authority to keep premiums in check.

Republicans argue that competition will help bring down prices. In fact, competition among hospitals and other health care providers is fueling the medical arms race. Health insurance companies pass the costs onto premium-payers.

Even if federal subsidies were universal and no one had to pay any money out of pocket for health insurance, the subsidies would be like a Band-Aid on a metastatic cancer that will devastate the country's financial corpus.

President Obama, the Congress and the Supreme Court are fiddling while Washington is burning through wads of borrowed money.