By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Have you heard? President Obama’s historic health care reform plan is dead. Killed with one shot by a federal district court judge in Virginia.
That’s the news trumpeted by The New York Times under the headline: “Core of Health Care Law is Rejected By a U.S. Judge.” The Washington Post carried a similar front-page banner. And Speaker-to-be John Boehner declared that the judge’s ruling meant the entire law should be repealed.
Baloney. What’s so surprising is not that Boehner got it wrong. But that the media, which should know better, did, also. Does anybody at the Times or Post do any real reporting?
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled that the individual mandate requiring every American to purchase health insurance, considered the cornerstone of the new law, is unconstitutional. At first glance, that may seem catastrophic. Yet just five minutes of digging would have shown any reporter that Hudson’s decision was neither unexpected nor definitive, nor all that significant.
For starters, the lawsuit brought by Virginia’s new Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is not the only one filed against health care. It’s one of more than 25. Nor is it the first to challenge the individual mandate clause. At least four other challenges on the same point have been dismissed. And two federal judges — one in Michigan, one in Virginia — have already ruled that the individual mandate is, in fact, constitutional. The Virginia case, by the way, was decided just 115 miles from Judge Hudson’s courtroom. All of which the Times and the Post simply forgot to report.
Why would Hudson rule differently? You won’t read that in the media, either. He’s an appointee of President George W. Bush and a politically active conservative Republican. He owns $50,000 worth of stock in a GOP political consulting firm that opposes health care reform and, according to the Huffington Post, since 2003 has received between $32,000 and $102,000 in dividends from Campaign Solutions Inc., a firm that has helped manage the campaigns of John Boehner, Michele Bachmann, and Ken Cuccinelli — all of whom ran by promising to repeal health care reform.
The real story of this decision, then, is not that America’s new health care plan is in trouble. It’s that Virginia Republicans shopped their case until they found a sympathetic judge. And that Judge Hudson spent more time studying his investments than the law — instead of recusing himself, which any judge who cares about judicial ethics would have done.
Unfortunately, Judge Hudson swallowed the arguments of Attorney General Cuccinelli that requiring every American to buy health insurance was an abuse of federal authority. If the federal government can force us to buy health insurance, Cuccinelli warned, they could soon force us to buy “guns, cars, gym memberships, or asparagus.”
Surely, even Cuccinelli must understand the difference between asparagus and health care. There’s not one American alive who, at some time, will not need the protection of health insurance — which they will pay for themselves or have the rest of us subsidize. That’s not true of gym memberships, asparagus, tomatoes, or kiwis. By that same reasoning, and with clear constitutional authority, Congress already requires seniors to buy hospital insurance under Medicare Part A and states require every car owner to purchase auto insurance.
The individual mandate remains a critical part of the legislation, however, because without it insurance companies could not afford to carry out other obligations placed on them by the bill: accepting all applicants, regardless of pre-existing conditions; and continuing to cover policy holders, even after they’ve racked up greater-than-expected medical bills. Put simply, unless everybody’s in the pool, there’s not enough money to cover everybody.
Yet, even so, even this right-wing judge held back from everything Virginia’s attorney general demanded. In his pleading, Attorney General Cuccinelli begged Judge Hudson to invalidate the entire health care reform statute and enjoin its application nationwide. Which Hudson, to his credit, refused. He agreed, instead, that the bulk of the law could move forward absent the individual mandate, which doesn’t kick in until 2014, anyway — and will do so, under other judges, who know the law and don’t have such a blatant conflict of interest.
Bottom line: The real impact of this case is just the opposite of what was reported in The New York Times. Given the facts of the case, a better headline for the Times would have been: “With One Objection, Right-Wing Judge Allows Obama Health Care Plan To Proceed.”
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.