Supreme Court Will Never Decide Obamacare’s Fate

There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether the Supreme Court will save or destroy the president’s health care law, known to many as Obamacare. At least one writer went so far as to suggest the court might be preparing to undo the nation’s safety net.


To suggest that such talk is absurd is a gross understatement.

Remember, we have no idea what the Court will decide. Some people following the oral arguments closely concluded that supporters of the law have reason to be optimistic. Just a few years back, however, the analysts watching the oral arguments concluded that the Court would rule against Obamacare — and they were wrong. Chief Justice John Roberts surprised everyone and found a creative way to keep the law alive.

The Court might be similarly creative again this year. They have great latitude on what to decide and how the decision will be implemented. It’s even possible to imagine them ruling against the law but staying the order for a year or two giving Congress a chance to deal with it.

But the larger issue is that the Supreme Court does not have the final say on it. Public opinion and the reality of how the law works will ultimately decide its fate.

That scares some supporters of the law. They fear a scenario where the Court undoes a major piece of the Obamacare puzzle and makes the whole law unworkable. Since the law has never been popular with voters, they assume that the current Congress would not replace it.

There’s some truth to that. The law was passed over voter opposition only because the Democrats had a unique and temporary hold on both the White House and Congress. There’s no way today’s Republican-controlled Congress would support anything like President Obama’s pet plan.

But, even if the Court sides with the Administration on the current case, the health care law will remain vulnerable as long as it is unpopular. If consumers continue to see it as more of a burden than a benefit, the unpopular parts of the law will eventually disappear.

And there are many unpopular parts of the law. The biggest, of course, is the individual mandate. It’s not just that people are being forced to buy insurance that’s troubling to many; it’s the fact that the mandate forces people to buy more insurance than they need. That makes it more expensive than most people want (or are able) to pay.

There are a couple of other things that may heighten opposition to the law in the coming months.

Millions of people will find out in the next two months that they owe the government a lot of money because they didn’t have insurance last year. Millions more will find out that the subsidies they received for health insurance last year were too high and that they also owe the government a lot of money. That’s not likely to produce a lot of warm feelings toward the law.

The bottom line is that the fate of Obamacare is in the hands of the American people. Given the continued unpopularity of the law, that should worry the president’s team far more than what the Supreme Court will decide.

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