Obama's health care

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

To the dismay of many, the US Supreme Court (well, actually Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts) dealt an apparently huge blow to the conservative movement by upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA was a flagship program of US President Barack Obama’s administration (pretty much like the impeachment case engineered by Noynoy Aquino’s administration). The implications of that complex ruling (particularly as to how it will affect this November’s US presidential elections) will keep people perplexed and analyzing for months and years on end.

The impact of the ruling on the personal economies of ordinary US citizens (not to mention health care providers) is substantial enough. As reported by the Wall Street Journal (Court Backs Obama on Health Law, 29 June 2012): “The court’s decision leaves intact hundreds of provisions in the sweeping overhaul, with major changes to the US health system set to take effect by 2014. That is the year when individuals and employers will face their coverage mandates. Insurance companies will have to accept all customers regardless of medical history and won’t be able to charge more to those who are sick.”

The issue, however, goes far deeper than that, essentially dealing with a citizen’s right to choose. People who don’t want health care or need a different type of health care will now be forced to pay for other people’s health care. Bottom line is: people’s medical costs will go up regardless if they’re going to be using them or not. Even health care providers are up in arms because their capacity to be reimbursed under the ACA is dependent not necessarily on the needs of any particular patient but rather as what will be dictated by Washington. Noticeably, the effectivity of all this is 2014, which is past the presidential elections. The Obama camp hopes that any political fallout won’t have any effect on his (possible) re-election.

Disappointment was most expressed against Chief Justice John Roberts, who at one time was called by the New Yorker as the “Supreme Court’s stealth hard-liner.” It was he who was expected to ram down the nail on the ACA’s coffin. Instead, he ruled in its favor by bafflingly declaring in his ponente that the ACA was constitutional, not on the perspective of it violating the “commerce clause” of the US constitution but on the fact that it properly fell within Congress’s taxation powers. Baffling because the Obama administration had always denied the ACA to be a tax measure (which it promised it wouldn’t do). It now leaves the Democrats with the dilemma of how to support and explain the ruling without making them look confused or lying.

One thing is certain though: the suits filed by Catholic and faith-based institutions on the health care laws’ health and human services (HHS) contraception mandate will continue, if not invigorated. It has to be clarified that the ACA case heard and eventually ruled by the Supreme Court is separate from that of the HHS case (although had the Supreme Court ruled that the ACA was unconstitutional, then the HHS mandate case would be rendered technically “moot”). The EWTN Global Catholic Network, which filed suit last February to stop the implementation of the HHS mandate, immediately issued this statement upon release of the Supreme Court’s decision: “the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act in its entirety ensures that the Network and many other entities must continue the battle for religious liberty in this country.”

[For purposes of full disclosure, I am the legal counsel for the EWTN Foundation, Philippines.] The rationale for EWTN’s suit, filed not at the US Supreme Court but at the US District Court in Birmingham, Alabama, is that the HHS mandate “requires employee health plans to provide coverage for morally objectionable services like contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.” Accordingly, the same violates religious and conscience rights of affected institutions and individuals (regardless of whether they are Catholic or not).

For their part, the Becket Fund also came out with a statement declaring that their own suit against the HHS mandate will be vigorously pursued: “The court’s opinion today did not decide the issues in our cases. We are challenging the Health and Human Services mandate on religious liberty grounds which are not part of today’s decision. We will move forward seeking vindication of our client’s First Amendment rights. The Becket Fund’s religious liberty lawsuits against the unconstitutional HHS mandate will continue. Never in history has there been a mandate forcing individuals to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.”

The parallels between the suits against the HHS mandate and the current debate happening in the Philippines in relation to the RH Bill is interesting, to say the least. At the heart of the issue is the matter of religious rights, with the US in a huge struggle to recover religious convictions in its public life and the Philippines in the fight of its life to retain it.