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The Fight Over Obamacare Was a Giant Political Charade

Posted on Jul 2, 2015

By Sonali Kolhatkar

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When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 25 that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies for health insurance for the poor were indeed constitutional, liberals cheered. The last-ditch attempt by the right to gut President Obama’s signature act failed. In his weekly address, Obama triumphantly announced that “after more than fifty votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law; after a Presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law; after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, we can now say this for certain: the Affordable Care Act still stands, it is working, and it is here to stay.”

The case at the heart of the ruling was King v. Burwell, a legal challenge that was based on a technicality. The Los Angeles Times explained that legal experts saw it “as a fatuous misreading of the law and a tortured effort to bend the process of statutory interpretation for ideological ends.” But the constant attacks on the ACA, including this last attempt, were less ideological than political, and in the end, the Supreme Court ruling was an affirmation of the supremacy of capitalism over human needs.

It is true that 6.4 million Americans currently receiving subsidies for insurance would have lost their coverage had the court not voted to preserve the ACA. The vote was 6-3, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joining swing voter Anthony Kennedy and the four liberal stalwarts (Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer). The fact that Roberts voted for it, and wrote the majority opinion, speaks volumes about what the ruling really means. According to him, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

That single sentence clearly lays out the problem with what the right has sardonically named “Obamacare.” In voting to preserve the health care reform law, the court sought to “improve health insurance markets,” not access to health care.

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Paul Y. Song is the executive chairman of the Courage Campaign, executive board member of Physicians for a National Health Program, and co-chair of Campaign for a Healthy California. He told me in an interview on Uprising that “this was really less about protecting patients and more about protecting the health insurance industry, hospitals and all of the medical corporations.” The subsidies at stake are our tax dollars filling the coffers of private corporations in exchange for profit-based “managed care.”

Song concurred, saying, “This is less of a government-run program, but it’s a corporate bailout. It really is giving people money to buy a product from a for-profit industry that only makes money by denying care.”

The right-wing attacks on Obamacare were always about attempting to delegitimize the president rather than the actual substance of a pro-corporate health reform law. Indeed, Republicans long ago suggested similar reform proposals, such as the health exchanges, to those at the heart of the ACA. “Had anyone else proposed this,” said Song, “I think the Republicans would have said, ‘Wow, this is a great idea.’”

The GOP’s relentless attacks on the ACA left progressives in the awkward position of having spent the last five years defending a pro-corporate law that the right would have ordinarily salivated over. As Michael Moore wrote in The New York Times, “Obamacare is awful. That is the dirty little secret many liberals have avoided saying out loud for fear of aiding the president’s enemies.”


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