ObamaCare isn't dead yet, but Peter Baker's lead New York Times story Sunday on Obama-Care laid out a provisional autopsy in anticipation of the Supreme Court's decision, expected Thursday, that may eviscerate some or all of the president's major piece of legislation: "Supporters Slow to Grasp Health Law's Legal Risks – Initial Confidence Proved a Miscalculation, Raising What-Ifs About Strategy."
But a couple of other Times stories, including one by Jodi Kantor (pictured) took a sympathetic and defensive view of ObamaCare that suggested the measure had suffered because of Republican deception and a failure to understand the bill's benefits.
With the Supreme Court likely to render judgment on President Obama’s health care law this week, the White House and Congress find themselves in a position that many advocates of the legislation once considered almost unimaginable.
In passing the law two years ago, Democrats entertained little doubt that it was constitutional. The White House held a conference call to tell reporters that any legal challenge, as one Obama aide put it, “will eventually fail and shouldn’t be given too much credence in the press.”
Congress held no hearing on the plan’s constitutionality until nearly a year after it was signed into law. Representative Nancy Pelosi, then the House speaker, scoffed when a reporter asked what part of the Constitution empowered Congress to force Americans to buy health insurance. “Are you serious?” she asked with disdain. “Are you serious?”
Opponents of the health plan were indeed serious, and so was the Supreme Court, which devoted more time to hearing the case than to any other in decades. A White House that had assumed any challenge would fail now fears that a centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s presidency may be partly or completely overturned on a theory that it gave little credence. The miscalculation left the administration on the defensive as its legal strategy evolved over the last two years.
Reporter Jodi Kantor took off her journalist hat to bluntly accuse the GOP of "falsely raising the specter of death panels in Sunday's "Putting On a Brave Face, but Preparing for Heartbreak on Health Care." The online headline left off the pro-Obama personalization: "Wearing Brave Face, Obama Braces for Health Care Ruling."
In the White House, many of his top advisers, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, counseled Mr. Obama against a sweeping health care overhaul. By summer 2009, with the country still stunned by economic crisis and Republicans falsely raising the specter of death panels, some aides practically begged the president to scale back, take interim steps and move on to other issues.
Mr. Obama did not relent. He had an economic rationale for stabilizing a dysfunctional health system, but he also “saw what Teddy called the moral issue,” Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s widow, said in an interview, referring to her husband. For those who wondered what Mr. Obama really believed in, universal health coverage seemed to be the answer
Reporter Sabrina Tavernise on Saturday used a sympathetic elderly couple in Ohio to argue that many who opposed the law simply don't understand it.
The tumor grew like a thick vine up the back of Eric Richter’s leg, reminding him every time he sat down that he was a man without insurance. In April, when it was close to bursting through his skin, he went to the emergency room. Doctors told him it was malignant and urged surgery.
His wife called every major insurance company she found on the Internet, but none would cover him: His cancer was a pre-existing condition. In desperation, the Richters agreed to pay half their hospital bill, knowing they could never afford it on their combined salaries of $36,000 a year.
No other group of Americans faces higher stakes in the impending Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act than those with pre-existing conditions. The law, once its major provisions take effect, would prohibit insurance companies from turning people away or charging them more because they are sick. In exchange, most Americans would be required to have insurance, broadening the base of paying customers with an infusion of healthy people. Those who did not buy insurance would be subject to financial penalties.
The Richters would benefit from the law, but in a sign of how poorly it is understood, they said their impression was that it would force people to pay for something they cannot afford. “That’s not going to go over well,” Mr. Richter said. The law includes an exemption for people who cannot afford the premium even with the subsidy.
Currently, uninsured people with pre-existing conditions often end up getting care, but at tremendous cost to the public, hospitals, and themselves. Some divorce to have household incomes small enough to qualify for Medicaid. Others get help from hospital charities. Still others rack up large bills that go to debt collection agencies.
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site