East Valley residents divided on health insurance requirement - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

East Valley residents divided on health insurance requirement

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Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011 10:00 am

The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the challenge to the health care law passed in 2010. The law, President Barack Obama's signature legislative accomplishment and ticket to the history books, requires most individuals to purchase health insurance, known as the individual mandate.

This is the sticking point with those who oppose the law.

"The law provides that if you choose not to buy health insurance you are fined. The question is, does the federal government have the power to do that?" Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said.

Those who support the law argue that regulating the health care market in this way falls in the boundary of the Commerce Clause, located in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. It grants Congress the power "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes."

Arizona has joined 25 other states in the legal challenge to the law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Several different cases have made it to the Supreme Court this term, but the High Court agreed last week to hear this case, Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida.

Two lower courts ruled on the law in this particular case, each striking down the requirement for Americans to buy insurance.

"There are a lot of cases interpreting the Interstate Commerce Clause. Some of them have extended its reach to an extent that may seem surprising," Horne said.

The most relevant case, Wickard v. Filburn, comes from 1942.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 attempted to do something similar to the individual mandate, which is to stabilize a market price. In this case, the Act defined set amounts of wheat an individual could produce.

In the current case, the individual mandate keeps the cost of insurance down by drawing more people into the pool. The law stipulates that insurance companies cannot turn away people because of their medical history.

If this policy were in place without the requirement for insurance, people would only get insurance when they become sick, sending premiums through the roof.

There seems to be a central issue in this legal argument. "What is the reach of the Interstate Commerce Clause?" Horne said. This is one of the core questions in the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

The Wickard case set a broad precedent.

Farmer Roscoe Filburn grew wheat both for commercial and individual purposes, and the combined total exceeded the ceiling amount established. He faced a monetary penalty, but fought it under the grounds that the Agricultural Adjustment Act exceeded the commerce powers granted to Congress.

The Supreme Court held that this was, in fact, in the scope of powers that the Commerce Clause granted. This established a precedent under which Congress can regulate even small, local activities if they affect interstate commerce.

The advocates of the law point to this case as an argument for its constitutionality inactivity.

This sits well with some East Valley residents. Paul Haworth, the head of wholesale at Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, believes that this is within the government's ability.

"As long as the government is providing a means, I think it's OK for the government to mandate it. It's a matter of being lazy if there is a way to pay for it," he said.

The law attempts to ease the burden on people's wallets by expanding accessibility to Medicaid and offering subsidies to pay for health insurance.

Haworth also feels that the law is "a step in the right direction" because it makes the health insurance business "less of a profit-driven industry."

Mesa resident David Miller also supports the individual mandate, and points to existing laws to make his point. "The state has this power already. They can force you to buy car insurance," he said.

Miller also believes the law fell short of the necessary reforms. "I personally don't think they went far enough. I don't see anyway around [single-payer health care]," he said.

Single-payer health care, the type of system that Miller favors, is managed by a single insurance provider, most often the government.

Mesa resident Tammy Sundquist's personal experiences have influenced her opinion on the law.

She lost her job, but had to help her mother with critical dental surgery that Sundquist had to pay out-of-pocket. The procedure cost $6,000 and contributed to her declaration of bankruptcy six months later.

She actually believes the necessity to purchase health insurance will help her.

"For me, the fact that I would have insurance, I would have backup should something happen. The government telling me these are the choice of what doctors you have or this is the choice of what plans you have is completely fine because you get the exact same thing when you take another job. You are in a new place with new rules and you have to pick a new doctor," Sundquist said.

However, the opposition has convincing arguments as well. A more recent Supreme Court case, United States v. Lopez, limited the power of the Commerce Clause.

In the case, Alfonso Lopez, a senior in high school, was arrested for carrying a gun on campus, violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990. However, Lopez argued this Act exceeded Congress' regulatory powers.

In a 5-4 ruling, the High Court sided with Lopez arguing that the possession of a hand gun in a local school zone had nothing to with economic activity, thus limiting the powers of the Commerce Clause.

The Court rejected the government's argument that a violent crime would have an affect on national commerce and that school violence could hurt the national economy. This limited view of the government's regulatory powers challenged the notion that Congress can oversee local affairs.

Horne cited this case when asked about limiting Congress' powers.

Tempe resident Brandon Menc supports this limited view of government.

"I don't think it's right for the government to force you to purchase something. The Commerce Clause is like a blank check," Menc said.

He is not alone in this belief. A CNN/Opinion Research Cooperation released early this summer showed a majority of Americans did not support the Affordable Care Act's provision requiring insurance. Fifty-four percent of the population opposed it, while only 44 percent endorsed the mandate.

Gilbert resident Katie Ala sees the law through a mixed paradigm. She favors some of the more popular consumer protection measures, citing a specific provision that allows children to stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26 years of age. Two of her children benefit from this.

Like Menc though, Ala does not like the idea of a government with the power of forcing people to buy things.

"I feel like if somebody doesn't want to buy this or do this - I think people should have the right to decide from themselves," Ala said.




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