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Friday, March 30, 2012

Paul Krugman: Broccoli and Bad Faith

The Supreme Court is undermining the public's confidence in its ability to stand above politics:

Broccoli and Bad Faith, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Nobody knows what the Supreme Court will decide with regard to the Affordable Care Act. But ... it seems quite possible that the court will strike down the “mandate” — the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance — and maybe the whole law. Removing the mandate would make the law much less workable, while striking down the whole thing would mean denying health coverage to 30 million or more Americans.
Given the stakes, one might have expected all the court’s members to be very careful... In reality, however,... antireform justices appeared to embrace any argument, no matter how flimsy, that they could use to kill reform.
Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli... That comparison horrified health care experts ... because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.
Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.
There are at least two ways to address this reality... One is to tax everyone ... and use the money raised to provide health coverage. That’s what Medicare and Medicaid do. The other is to require that everyone buy insurance, while aiding those for whom this is a financial hardship.
Are these fundamentally different approaches? ... Here’s what Charles Fried — who was Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general — said..: “I’ve never understood why regulating by making people go buy something is somehow more intrusive than regulating by making them pay taxes and then giving it to them.” ... (By the way, another pet conservative project — private accounts to replace Social Security — relies on, yes, mandatory contributions from individuals.)
So has there been a real change in legal thinking here? Mr. Fried thinks that it’s just politics — and other discussions in the hearings strongly support that perception. ...
As I said, we don’t know how this will go. But it’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding — and to worry that the nation’s already badly damaged faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to stand above politics is about to take another severe hit.

    Posted by on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Health Care, Market Failure, Politics, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (126)

          


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