The Fate of Obamacare: Political Vengeance?

Arjun Ray, Online Staff Writer

Since 2010, when President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA), certain Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have made it a campaign promise to eliminate the healthcare insurance program. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a coalition of Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to get rid of the legislation, informally dubbed “Obamacare.” Although there was an attempt in 2015, which passed the then Republican controlled House of Representatives, it failed in the Senate as Democrats and moderate Republicans, such as John McCain, did not join their colleagues. Despite promising to repeal Obamacare and replace it, President Trump has failed to provide a detailed alternative plan to continue the insurance coverage for those who need it.

Regardless of its controversies, the ACA has undeniably contributed to healing the previously rampant health insurance crisis. By 2016, the number of uninsured citizens had been reduced by half through an unprecedented expansion of Medicare. Additionally, it emphasized access to preventative care as an essential component in its effectiveness. Americans cannot be denied emergency care when 911 is dialed but, without insurance, it is extremely difficult to obtain the preventative healthcare that can allow one to avoid needing emergency services. While allowing millions of men, women, and children who otherwise would remain uncovered to be insured, the ACA does not threaten the United States’ successful 3 trillion-dollar semi-private healthcare system. 

Obama’s paramount achievement, however, does not come without failings. To compensate for lost revenue, the ACA introduced a myriad of tax hikes. Normal policy holders at insurance companies had their premiums raised, and millions had to switch to costlier plans after their previous ones were deemed not to fit the ACA’s threshold of minimum essential coverage, which has led to one of Obamacare’s biggest points of contention: The Individual Mandate. The mandate’s implementation means that anyone not covered by an insurance plan will be penalized. President Trump and the Republicans managed to eliminate the Individual Mandate by reducing the penalty to $0, which then led to a Texas judge deeming the mandate unconstitutional, as it was considered a command rather than a tax.

Now, Texas has been joined by 19 other states in a legal battle known as California V. Texas that was heard by the Supreme Court last week. The media consensus has generally been that the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the highest court in the land, giving it a 6-3 conservative majority, is the final nail in the coffin for Obamacare. However, I believe that this prediction displays a gross misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s purpose. Justices do have ideological backgrounds that impact their interpretation of the Constitution (for example, Barrett is an originalist), but this certainly does not mean that they do the bidding of a political party. 

The Supreme Court’s increasing politicization over the past decade points toward a messy, partisan battle over Obamacare. This polarization is made evident when examining Justice Senate Confirmation votes, a trend pointed out by members of both parties. In 1993, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was confirmed, the vote was 96-3; however, when Justice Elena Kagan was confirmed in 2010, the Senate vote was clearly amongst party lines, with only 5 Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues by voting for her. Despite the partisan Senate vote, Kagan’s tenure has been labeled as “moderate” by experts, as she sided with the conservative Justice Samuel Alito 58% of the time. However, it must be remembered that a Justice’s vote shouldn’t be based on their ideology (whether they lean conservative or liberal), and instead on if they are qualified to provide a fair and just interpretation of the United States’ Constitution. The fate of the ACA lies in whether it is constitutional. However, as no alternative has been provided, it is most likely that the bill will remain intact while parts such as the individual mandate will be deemed unconstitutional and removed.