The ACA Exchange Poster Child – Covered California: Works for some, not for others

CoveredCaCalifornia, has long had the reputation as being one of the most progressive, or liberal, states in the nation. Often in a neck and neck battle with New York over who gives more free-stuff to its people at any given time, California long ago adopted the philosophy that what is good for some should also be good for all. The concept of income redistribution though higher taxes is not a new one for California residents.  Yet this state, nicknamed “the Golden State,” and home to Hollywood, Biotech, Oil and Silicon Valley fortunes often confounds because there are also strong anti-tax forces that from time to time rise up and limits California’s spending power through measures like Proposition 13. Continue reading

On Football, Smoking, Soda and Obamacare: There is a spending problem!

Yes Football is a violent sport!

Yes Football is a violent sport!

After reading a recent spate of articles on how the president should, could or would ban or regulate football, I started to wonder what my father or grandfather might say? Then I wondered, how we got to this place where things that others choose to do to themselves is now our responsibility to monitor, manage, restrict and pay for?

50 years ago if we  spoke to our parents about the federal government making laws regulating football, or restricting peoples access to cigarettes and punitively taxing soda, they would think we had lost our minds.  Cleary, Continue reading

More Challenges to the ACA (Obamacare)

No Taxation Without Representation!

No Taxation Without Representation!

From Boston Massachusetts

By now, we all know that the Supreme Court upheld the insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare.  To recap, 26 states brought action to have the mandate, declared as an unconstitutional expansion of federal power under the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, and as a minor point its taxing authority.  The Supreme Court agreed with the states and found the mandate unconstitutional under the commerce clause, and the necessary and proper clause. However, in what many felt was a stunning decision by Justice Roberts­—and judicial over reach, the court upheld the mandate as a Continue reading

The Supreme Court Decision: It hurts to be wrong-but it hurts more to be right and still wrong!

Now that we have all heard the decision by the Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), perhaps it is time for some reflection.  I know as I read the decision Thursday morning, while I was waiting in the queue preparing for a radio interview on the issue, I felt both vindicated in my initial analysis, but also left wanting and inadequate for not seeing the sideways tax justification for its declared constitutionality.

First a recap

There were four questions heard by the Supreme Court in this case. Continue reading

The wheels of justice not only turn slowly they often confuse the common man

If you want to listen to the lengths modern law and its practitioners, lawyers, go to spin reality and obscure common sense to convince courts that which otherwise normal people would deem ludicrous, just go to and listen to yesterday’s oral arguments on the Tax Anti-Injunction Act part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Supreme Court review of its constitutionality.

It is interesting to note that the Solicitor General, representing the government, seems to be schizophrenic as he attempts to argue for the Obama administration’s position that the court cant here the case because of the act—as the President does not want the decision to come till after the election—and on the other hand in representing the position of the government (the people in general) he tells the court that he thinks the court should hear the case.

Another point to note as it has very particular relevance is that in his argument yesterday, he describes the assessed fee for not purchasing insurance, under the mandate clause of the act, is a tax.  Tomorrow he will be arguing that it is in fact a tax.  This schizophrenic position has been confounding the government’s position since they debated the law and passed it in the first place.  In arguing why the case can be heard, Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, argues that the penalty is not a tax for the purpose of the Tax Anti-Injunction Act.  Tomorrow he will argue that the “penalty” is in fact a tax to justify the federal government’s position that it can levee it and therefore it is not violating state’s rights.

It is very important to note that like congress and the president, the power of the judicial branch, including the Supreme Court is granted, loaned if you will, from We, the people of the United States.  As such, if the decisions rendered make no sense to We, the people, then it is either because they are wrong or not crafted to reflect well on our intentions as a people.

We need to begin to exercise our responsibility as the grantors of these very important and solemn powers and demand that all decisions and arguments be rendered with a standard of language that we can all understand and does not obscure whether or not our constitutional rights are being upheld.

I encourage everyone to take the time to listen to the arguments in the first person, not as reported by others.  Yes they will take a combined six to nine hours but to allow others to police our rights is to grant them the power to help obscure the elimination, or neutering, of our rights.

To quote and old friends mother, “Pay attention, you can learn something from a fool!”  I worry that in the end the fool will be us!

Stupidity or Duplicity: WE pay anyway!

Click to link to original ABC News Article

Do you think they just don’t get it? In a supposed attempt to find some “middle-ground” in order to make the “middle-men” whole as to the cost of birth control, the administration is acting like we are in the “middle-ages”—all poor and uneducated. First, the administration’s talking heads took the position that the cost of free birth control would be a savings for employers, now forced to pay for it because, pregnancies and abortions are much more expensive. The employers now have to pay for a product, to prevent a cost that their health plan is paying. The premise is that paying the lower cost birth control will lower the plan’s coverage cost and the health plan will then, in turn, lower the premium cost to the employers—not hardly!

Also, there is a big assumption that the rate of single mother and unwanted pregnancies will decrease because of improved access to birth control. I am not sure I agree with this either. Free or subsidized birth control is widely available, it just is not conveniently available everywhere. I am not attacking a woman’s right to have access to birth control. We have a very strong habit, of late, of confusing the discussion of access with no-cost access. It is the no-cost access I have the most problem with. The cost is not free, we all end up paying for it anyway, and the system that is based on mandates, despite the method of the mandate naturally inject inefficiencies and vagaries of control, so that a significantly reduced percentage of dollars spent actually go to pay for the good or service. Look at the healthcare debate numbers from the president’s round table at Blair House with republicans in 2010. By numerous authorities, from both sides of the aisle, only about 35 – 45 cents on the dollar ever make it to real care. So why do we do it this way?

The government now classifies birth control as preventative care, because the ACA or Obamacare requires health plans to cover prevention at no cost. Exercise prevents heart disease, so this should be classified as prevention, as well. Health plans really should cover gym membership at no cost. And, you know having fresh fruit prevents scurvy, health plans need to cover free fruit. Listening to peaceful music lowers stress levels, and therefor prevents high blood pressure and the risk of stroke so good music systems are preventative and should also be covered for free. And of course a warm, comfortable home is clearly preventative to lots and lots of health related problems so I guess “health plans” should provide this as well. This is the same issue I have with the insurance purchase mandate and the rationalization of its constitutionality by the extension of federal power justified by pointing to prior extensions of federal power under the commerce clause.

It is not the idea of helping people; women in this case, get access to care that is the issue. It is the duplicitousness of the need for access by extension to now mean everybody else needs to pay for it, and the effort to obscure the nature of the extension logic that I am finding most troubling. The argument that is being used, now over and over again, goes like this . . . Someone, or some group, needs access to something—or for political gain, we can convince them that they are being discriminated against because they do not have this access and we want to give them access so they will see us as looking out for them, what we are providing is now considered preventative, we passed the law that says if its preventative it must be provided at no cost, ipso facto, you have to pay for this group to get it because it’s the law.

The straw that is breaking the back of many on this issue is now that this administration is saying well, since you are objecting to assuming this cost, we, the government, will find some way to make you whole here, you won’t have to shoulder the cost. Everything the government does cost the people of the United States money. No matter how they try to spin this, it costs us money. We are the government and we are the only source of money. So nothing they can do at the federal level is going to make anyone whole without laying it on the backs of all of us in the long run. Simply saying OK we will let you get a credit to reduce something you pay us over here, just reduces the income the federal government needs to pay what is already spent ten years ago. Do they really think we believe they will not increase fees somewhere else to get the money? If they lay it on the back of some other industry, they are going to increase prices that we all pay so once again it is out of our pockets. There is no escape from zero-sum economics. Even if they just print new money out of thin air, as they have been doing for forty years now, it reduces the buying power of our currency and prices go up, again we pay.

Finally, it is time we realize that we only have finite resources, and everything we do costs us in one way or another. Paying for birth control for everyone is just reducing the money we need to pay for everything else. People are now living much longer and as we crossed from average life expectancy at the mid-seventies to where we are not in the eighties, the average cost of care has rapidly increased. Now we demand that heal plans no longer just cover basic life-saving procedures, we expect they also cover quality of life items as well. The technologies we have developed to make this real gain in median life span is based on very expensive technologies adding to the costs, and the magic bio-chemical bullets we have developed to fight the war with the other species, like bacteria, and viruses, etc. are increasingly costing more and causing more side effects as these species have evolved to be resistant. All of this, with some other reasons as well, is causing the steadily increasing cost for our healthcare. Sometime soon we need to begin to discriminate at what point people are individually responsible for at least some of these costs.

So I wonder are the people coming up with these ideas really this stupid. If they are not stupid, then do they think we are this stupid? Or are they simply Machiavellian? My initial reaction is they are not smart enough to be this duplicitous, but perhaps I am mistaken!

California AB171 & AB254: And we wonder why healthcare costs in CA continue to increase?

One of the largest drains on every states budget is healthcare cost.  California has historically been in the top of state healthcare expenditures due largely to its past of providing one of the most generous sets of program benefits in the country.  Both Governor Brown and Secretary Dooley deserve a tremendous amount of credit for acknowledging the mounting problem of healthcare costs and taking steps to begin the process of addressing it.

Healthcare costs in the U.S. are estimated to top $3 trillion this year.  That is a significant increase from the estimated $2.4 trillion in 2009.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, is supposed to be lowering the costs and improving efficiencies for healthcare.  While it can be argued, and it has vociferously, that it is early in the process and the projected savings will begin in the next four to five years, there are some significant indicators from the administration in Washington DC that more and more of the promised savings will not happen.  This will spell further disaster for states like California that already shoulder a disproportionate share of the healthcare burden of our population.

Before we can discuss AB154 and AB171, let’s review some broader recent decisions and data that have a direct impact on California’s projected healthcare costs.

Part of the plan to afford the care under the Affordable Care Act was to appropriate revenue from the purchase of healthcare and penalties for non-purchase of policies.  The governing method to assess the fees and assure collection was the IRS.  Within months of its passage the government had to admit that the idea of the IRS administering this program’s revenue would not work and that segment of the legislation was repealed.  This now begs the question how will this revenue be assured?

As we are all painfully aware, there is some disagreement over whether or not the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase insurance is constitutional.  Scholars, pundits, and constitutional lawyers on both sides are already at polar opposites over the issue with each side quoting chapter and verse as to why, or why not, it will be upheld or declared unconstitutional. The reason for the gulf in the interpretation of the underlying law is its base on a prime case called Wickard v. Filburn from 1942 that started the justification for the federal government’s expansion into what had prior been clearly state jurisdiction.  Any non-lawyer’s reading of the case simply defies common sense—this will be a very sticky wicket indeed. If the Supreme Court declares the mandate unconstitutional then much of the insurance reform inherent in the bill falls apart. Another large segment of projected saving will revert to increased expenses ultimately burdening the state both directly and indirectly.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, has recently ruled that the CLASS Act—a segment of the bill that was designed to expand options for people who become functionally disabled and required long-term services and support—is not affordable by the definition under the act and therefore it has been suspended.  Where will these costs fall if the federal government stimulates the expectation but fails to provide the funding?

A major part of the projected savings was though the requirements of Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s).  In the bill they were projected to provide a savings of approximately $333 million per year, or just about $1 billion over three years. The CBO recently announced the results of a 20 year study focused on disease management and value based payment methods that fundamentally negate most, if not all, of the assumption on which these projected savings were based. In fact the study indicates they will potentially increase costs.

Another main point of the Affordable Care Act was to eliminate treatment disparity.  Who wants to argue for disparity? No one!  But even CA Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dianna Dooley, has said publically that “…we all need to get used to the idea that disparities will exist.”  I commend her for this statement because it is unequivocally true.  There is a basic law of diminishing returns that says that you will spend 80% of your money trying to arrest 20% of the problems.

Another key segment area of the ACA savings plan is Insurance Rebates. The act maintains that it has teeth to control the insurance industry profits because of its ability to mandate rebates for fees in excess of the medical loss ratio that the U.S. Secretary of HHS sets.  In the first place, the rebate amount is a mere trifle compared to the $3 trillion national expense.  More importantly, rebates have been mandated by the federal and state governments of Pharma for years.  Rebates do not lower costs at all.  Rebates in this bad play are methods to redirect money from the general consumers of the products, prescription drugs in this case, to other areas that the federal government, or the state, wants to spend them.  They do nothing but increase the cost in an arbitrary and specious way and obscure the real cost of care in America.  If monies flow in payments to the drug companies, and then flow back to the states, and the states, like California, can redirect these monies back to the programs or the general fund to fund more patients, it amounts to nothing more and a consumption tax.  A look at the California budget shows that about ½ of the drug spend for some programs comes through mandated rebates.  Sure this is a good thing for the participants in the programs, if like California the moneys flow back to services—not all states do this, some pay for other infrastructures—but it is not good for understanding the real impact of these programs economically as the myriad of convoluted funds flow become impossible to track or account effectively.  Frankly, the $3 trillion in health costs for the U.S. is not likely even close to $3 trillion because it is an unintelligible mix of both invoice pricing and actual reimbursement payments.  And for those who do not know, a healthcare provider typically is getting reimbursed from eleven cents on the dollar to twenty-two cents on the dollar for services they bill—and they seldom can predict the amount.

Yet another key segment of savings under ACA was the premise that hospital readmissions will reduce.  The plan is to select a series of specific disease states and for the government to begin to select measures that will allow for adjustment, read penalties, to hospitals that have higher than the selected measures for readmission.  Houston, we have a problem.  One of the biggest drivers of healthcare cost is age related illnesses.  Since 1964, when we created Medicare and Medicaid, the lifespan has increased from about 70 years old to almost 83 years old today.  The effect of this increased lifespan has been to significantly increase the cost of care in one’s life and shift the cost curve of lifetime health expenses to our last few years of existence. A recent Kaiser study now indicates that almost 85% of our lifetime expense for healthcare will be made in the last 5 years of life—and the trend is still increasing.  We are aging, our culture of how we manage our elderly relatives has shifted from family responsibility to outsourced solutions (nursing homes), and we now are more focused on quality of life than just life as the basis for our expectation of care.

Let’s stay on the topic of re-admissions for another moment because this is a big one.  One of the assumptions that drive the belief that we can reap savings by setting measures and penalties is that and assumption is that the reason for the readmission is that hospitals get more money for readmissions. As a result, they are not doing much, or enough, to improve the outcomes in the first place.  But this is a false assumption for many reasons.  To illustrate the issue, let’s discuss Hospital Acquired Infections.  The premise is that Hospitals are sloppy or slipping when it comes to hygiene and if they simply do a better job following antiseptic protocols to reduce infection, then these unnecessary costs will go down.  The people drawing this conclusion do so from the basis that healthcare is more of a cause and effect system, a static system, where we have fixed cures for most of what affects us.  This is one of the main cores of why we keep thinking we can make progress if we just keep doing X process more and better…. But the problem is, the practice of healthcare, after all, actually is largely a war with other species (bacteria, viruses, and other complex pathogens), a war with our environment, (accidents, violence, and pollution) and also a war with ourselves (diet, exercise, work habits, and sleep). From time to time, we can see gains for ourselves in these battles, but our mortality assures us that we will all eventually lose the war. Basic biology and the laws of nature have stacked the deck against us. Innovations in technology, science, and medication have helped many of us delay the day of our ultimate surrender, but these advances have also fostered the false belief that no price is too high to pay for an extra day or week of life. Related to infections, we are losing this war as our chemical and biological weapons have continued to become less and less effective. The protagonists, other species, have evolved resistance to our weapons and the remaining available chemistries’ at our disposal have become more toxic to us who take them. Hospital readmissions will likely continue to increase.

Lastly, ACA relies heavily on projected savings from the mandate of conversion to Electronic Health Records (EHR’s).  While EHRs are a good thing and will very likely improve patient outcomes, any projected savings, should they even materialize, will be negligible.  How can I predict this so definitively?  If you look at where the healthcare dollar is spent only about 12 cents is spent in administrative costs today as it is.  The percentage that may be gained in efficiency from conversion to electronic records will likely be 10% to 20% of that number which would yield about 1.2 cents, to 2.4 cents, for every healthcare dollar.  The current plan for EHRs does nothing to change the current HIPPA regulations and as such the sharing or coordination of care though the transportability of these records between providers and sponsors is very expensive and practically prohibitive.  The application of technology has always been made with the promise of increased productivity and lower costs but an honest assessment of the past 40 years shows that overall lower cost and significant gains in productivity are the exception not the rule.

The largest cost drivers, where EHRs could have a major influence, are in the areas of duplicated services, defensive medicine, fraud, and abuse.  By many estimates, on both sides of the political spectrum, only about 33 cents of the governmental healthcare dollar is realized in services—about 60 cents is lost in these areas.  There is little debate on this total number across the aisles.  There is large debate as to whether the costs are larger in the fraud and abuse area or in the duplicated services/defensive medicine areas.  This debate is moot as EHRs could have the potential to drastically reduce these aggregate costs if, and only if, they are coupled with mandated coordination of care and benefits across all available sources.  By the way, I don’t mean single payer.   Single payer is a great sound bite but the term likely does not really describe what people are seeking.  Do we really want all care to come from a governmental source—eliminating choice, volunteer treatment, faith based programs, non-profits, philanthropic sources, corporate sources, etc.?  When I have had this discussion with various legislators, both state and federal, the answer invariably has become; well no, of course not!  What most really seem to want, and what is necessary to make this all work, is a central point of administration with the ability to connect the providers around the patient as the center point in a kind of virtual care team.  This is relatively inexpensive, does not initially even require full HER implementation to achieve significant savings, and provides a great role for state government to play.

With this as a backdrop, we come to the last big issue facing why healthcare is continuously increasing in cost and the issues with AB154 and AB171 drastically put at risk California’s healthcare future.  AB154 is legislation recently approved by the Assembly that will require private insurers to cover diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses (it appears all mental illnesses on the books).  AB171 requires coverage of developmental diseases such as autism.  The Assembly also approved legislation to cover oral chemotherapy and mammography regardless of age.  While I applaud the sentiment, these kinds of actions that constantly increase the overall coverage of anything, and everything, which can ever affect anyone as they perpetuate their long risky walk through life to older and older age, in conjunction with the items previously discussed, are setting California up for a perfect storm.  As the ACA projections continue to fall apart and as the federal cost for healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid continue to increase, states like California will be left in the crosshairs of larger expectations for treatment and less, perhaps no, federal money to pay for it. Already the president refers to Medicaid as a state program.  I guess he forgets that both Medicare and Medicaid are just parts of the federal Social Security Act of 1964.  Of course, the states consider this a federal program and due to the increasing drain on state budgets some are trying to figure out how they can again opt out of this federal program.

Our largest issues come down to the following things.  We no longer truly insure health care to preserve basic life.  More and more we are requiring insurance to cover “quality of life.”  We have extended though technological gains the amount of time we can spend on the planet to the point that we are now on average way beyond the period where our bodily systems effectively fight the healthcare war.  As we have gained the additional ten more years of life from the past forty years of technical and medical accomplishments, we have moved into a new reality that to preserve our quality of life during this extended period we are consuming consuming more and more of our resources.  Unfortunately, much of what programs like Medicare and Medicaid are now paying for are not the actual costs of care.  They are paying for the things we purchased during the former years to improve our quality of life way beyond the realm of healthcare.  These programs are really funding the earlier purchases of larger screen flat panel televisions, vacations, 2nd homes, new cars.  They fund the things that, prior to 1964, we typically did not purchase because we knew we needed the money for our elderly rainy day funds.  We were worried that we would need to pay for the catastrophic accidents and illnesses that fate dictated we would face as we aged. Today we are all free to make these lifestyle purchases because the threat of elder catastrophe is now covered by entitlement.

This is not an argument to go back to the way it was, not an argument to eliminate these programs, not an argument that we should die earlier.  I know of no one that wants to see people die younger, suffer more, or live in destitution.  The point of this article is to bring to the front the dilemma.  It is here we need to develop a better dialog and, as Ben Franklin said, “find compromise, through tolerance.”  It is here we also need to start to focus our hard decisions on where personal responsibility ends and our safety net begin.  Until we do this, California faces the coming perfect storm and like all other state will likely face it alone without federal help.  The decisions we make on items like AB154 & AB171 while laudable are significantly increasing expectations and hence our risk of future economic collapse.  Remember it was Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Wait, is this why AB154 is being passed?

I commend the Governor and the Secretary for their effort to begin to address this dialog.  While there are many who want to lay blame for everything at their feet, I find in both inappropriate and counterproductive.  Both have had long records of public service.  Both began, perhaps, more on the side of idealism but they have each arrived at pragmatism based on hard one experience and dedication to effective solutions.  I can’t think of any I would rather have trying to help California move these issues forward.  That said it is time we all begin to recognize the depth and diversity of the problems, reset our expectations and all become responsible for the solutions!

ACA, Politics, Mandates and the Commerce Clause

Focusing on the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act, (Obamacare) a few months ago I wrote a series of four articles for a publication, reproduced here as, “Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause Articles.”  In these four articles, I explored why I found the base argument that the government could regulate activities like these in a state difficult to fathom by reading the commerce clause in the constitution.

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

In my original look at this issue, I examined  the precedent cases cited by many as the basis for the idea of why the Federal government had, in this case, a superior right to the sovereign rights of the states, something that all agree was expressly limited by the framers of the constitution.   Reading these historical rulings made this concept that this is a Federal right even more difficult to swallow because I found that these earlier rulings often were even less convincing and often more startling in the extent that the arguments became even more extracted and remote in their nature.

In reading  the arguments and the rulings of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, I found an additional reason why I find the base idea that the Federal government has the right in instances like this to regulate the action of individuals in a state even more specious.  This is actually the simplest argument against such a right, and likely it would even hold the same effect at a state level.  It is part of the many arguments that have been made in the numerous constitutional challenges over these past few months.  But like much of these debates, the nature of the arguments has become complicated by excess verbiage and legal flanking obscuring for most of us the basic concept.

This additional argument comes in to points.  First, let us look at the definition of the word commerce.  In reviewing the many variations of the definitions available there are some basic common elements throughout.  They combine into the following.

com·merce
(komerse)
NOUN:

  1. The buying and selling of goods, especially on a large-scale, as between cities or nations.
  2. Intellectual exchange or social interaction.

Second, we simply need to ask a very obvious question, and one that while it has been raised by the legal scholars in the various debates in one form or another, it has been lost in the myriad levels of complexity provided more, it seem, to delight the ears than to illustrate the point. 

If commerce is either the act of buying or selling something, and depending on whether or not the activity was international, with the indian tribes or among the several states it could either be regulated by either the Federal government or the states.  How is NOT buying anything then an act of commerce in the first place?  And, if it is in fact NOT commerce then the argument on who regulates the action under the commerce clause is moot.

Of course legal scholars will use tangents of the “Wickard vs. Filburn” case to argue that not buying is an action that reduces the commerce among the states and therefore in reducing the revenue is itself something that impacts commerce and therefore can be regulated.  I guess this is the kind of argument our parents made for us to eat lima beans.

As a child my parents, who were good and nurturing parents, used to make me eat lima beans.  Every time I took a mouthful of lima beans, I had to rush to the bathroom to vomit.  And of course when I came back to the dinner table, I had to have yet another mouthful of lima beans, promulgating the same response.  Their justification was they were good for you.  Of course, the loss of the rest of the contents in my stomach and the various fluids and electrolytes that went along for the ride, did not enter into the equation – lima beans are good for you, we have lima beans, ergo  you need to eat the lima beans because they are good for you!

My father, a lawyer and son of a prominent judge, I suppose was simply adapting some of the arguments from the prior court rulings justifying the extension of the federal powers under the commerce clause, when he said, “There are people in other lands who are starving and it would be a sin for you not to eat those lima beans while they starve.”  He must have chosen this argument because it is so similar in the base points made in the historic extensions of federal power under the commerce clause.

In “Wickard vs Filburn,” the court ruled that poor old Roscoe Filburn’s wheat had to be destroyed because he grew more than the law, at the time allowed, even though he was using it on his own farm to feed his animals.  In the case against Roscoe, it was deemed against the law because his flagrant activities of wanting to feed his animals this ill grown wheat, reduced the grain he would have had to purchase from other states if he had not committed the heinous act of growing it himself.  Of course the fact that he likely would have bartered with the farmer down the road in his same state and that Roscoe, during the depression, likely did not have any cash to pay for the wheat in the first place was not relevant.  Roscoe, was not buying wheat from other states and as a result he was affecting interstate commerce and therefore the Federal government had the right under the commerce clause to regulate him so his wheat had to go.  Now Roscoe, eat those lima beans because they are good for you!

We have a strong habit in this country to stretch quite far to make the points we want to make.  We will obscure, misdirect, abstract and extend, often by many more than the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in order to get the result that we want.  In doing this, either in the desire to accomplish an end we know people otherwise would not support or to appear brilliant by the use of flowery language and abstract argument, we often forget the simple and common sense argument.  The one we can all understand.  The one that actually stands up to quick and continued scrutiny.

Throughout these articles I have not wanted to argue whether or not we as a nation should require all to purchase insurance.  There are very good arguments both for and against this practice.  I simply am saying making these further and further abstract arguments, whether by legislative action, or judicial injection is not the way to achieve it.  In the end we spend billions of dollars arguing points that any person working in the fields or factories would screw up their faces and say, “What?”    If you related the “Wickard vs Filburn” issues to anyone working for a living they would have a simple answer.

In the end it is not hard to subvert intentions.  In the case of our current political motivations regarding the Affordable Care Act , so called Obamacare, we see exactly the extent that politicians and governments will go to get the outcome they want.  It takes years of very expensive education and hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to arrive at the decisions that have been rendered based on the various political governmental and abstract interpretations of the commerce clause!  Only we can ultimately stop this and force those we elect to find the simple and most pragmatic answers.

Afforable Care Act and Disease State Programs: What is the future?

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues the trek down the long tortuous hallway to become implemented law, a misquoted line, from Hunter S. Thompson, comes to mind. (I am using one of the misquotes)

“Hollywood, a long tortured hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason. There is also a bad side” – mis-quote of Hunter Thompson

We have all become complacent as to the unintended consequence of government deeds.  In researching my book, “The History and Evolution of Health Care in America: The Untold Backstory of Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, And Why Health Care Needs More Reform,” In a small way, I have become some kind of dubious expert on the historical record of the unintended consequences of the actions taken by our government, and many others, related to healthcare in America.  For some time now, I have been concerned that there may be very significant unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act, particularly relating to special disease state programs offered by both states, and the federal government like; HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, heart disease, COPD, diabetes, etc.

ADAP as an Example

(While mandated rebates sounds like a great thing for consumers – it is not.  Federally mandated rebates are one of the drivers increasing the cost of medications to all of us and a major cause of the lack of transparency in drug pricing. I discuss this extensively in my upcoming book.)

An example of the kind of program I am referring to in California, would be the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).  The California AIDS Drugs Assistance Program is a prescription drug coverage program funded, in part, by Title II of the Ryan White CARE Act created in 1990 by the US Congress and reauthorized in 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2009.

The ADAP program, provides medication purchase assistance to people suffering with AIDS, based on specific eligibility criteria.  The program sets limits on income, viral load, CD4 count, etc.  Depending on the criteria, eligible participants receive assistance ranging from; payment of insurance co-pay – up to and including full coverage of the medications proscribed, as long as the drugs are covered under the state’s extensive ADAP medication formulary (the approved list of medications).

You may be eligible for California ADAP services if:

  • You are a resident of the State of California
  • You are at least 18 years of age
  • You have a HIV/AIDS diagnosis (Requires Physician’s Letter and recent CD4 Count and Viral Load)
  • ADAP will only process prescriptions written by a licensed California physician/prescriber
  • You have limited or no prescription drug benefit from another source
  • You have a Federal Adjusted Gross Income of not more than $50,000.

ADAP is not all that California provides under the Ryan White Care Act to Californians suffering from AIDS, but it makes up the largest of the Office of AIDS’ (OA) expenditures – roughly $434 million of $1.3 trillion in total budget.  Of the $434 million number about 30%, approximately $126 million, comes from the California State General Fund, approximately 23%, $100 million, comes from the Ryan White Care Act funds, and 48%, $210 million, comes from mandated rebates from drug manufacturers

The Ryan White Care Act ¹

The Ryan White Care Act is the United States largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS. The act sought funding to improve availability of care for low-income, uninsured and under-insured victims of AIDS and their families.

Unlike Medicare or Medicaid, Ryan White programs are “payer of last resort”, which fund treatment when no other resources are available. As AIDS has spread, the funding of the program has increased. In 1991, the first year funds were appropriated, around US$220 million were spent; by the early 2000s, this number had almost increased 10-fold. The Ryan White Care Act was reauthorized in 1996, 2000 and 2006. The program provides some level of care for around 500,000 people a year and, in 2004, provided funds to 2,567 organizations. The Ryan White programs also fund local and State primary medical care providers, support services, healthcare provider training programs, and provide technical assistance to such organizations.

In fiscal year 2005, federal funding for the Ryan White Care Act was $2.1 billion. As of 2005, roughly one-third of this money went to the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) which provides drugs for 30 percent of HIV-infected patients. The primary activity of ADAP is providing FDA approved prescription medication.

 So,  why should we be concerned?

One of the major reasons for the enactment of The Ryan White Care Act, and the subsequent creation of ADAP programs in the first place, was the inability of those with this tragic disease to get adequate coverage from their insurers.  A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS became a red flag to insurers that either precluded coverage, if it was a pre-existing condition, or HIV/AIDS patients found their policies dropped for a myriad of other reasons mostly due to lifetime limits and trumped-up problems.  As a result, people with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS could not get insurance.  The Ryan White Care Act and the various ADAP programs offered under this federal program through the 58 states and territories have done a wonderful job of helping treat, help to arrest the spread, and improve the quality of life of those with this horrible disease.  I think, this is undisputed.  The Ryan White Care Act and ADAP have been unqualified successes.  One of those rare occurrences within governmental programs.

President Obama’s 2012 HIV/AIDS budget requests $21.4 billion in funding for  Domestic HIV/AIDS activities. – Kaiser Family Foundation Report on HIV/AIDS Policy 

Having spent a good deal of time, for the past few years, in Washington, DC traveling the same long tortured hallway Hunter was claimed to have spoken about, I have developed a pretty good understanding of what is making things work there now-a-days.  The main issue on everyone’s lips, not just Republicans, is reducing spending.  The last re-authorization of Ryan White, in 2009, was a heated, and anger riddled, argument.  There were those then (including many leading democrats like Senator Kennedy) that did not want to reauthorize the existing legislation.  They were advocating creating new legislation that better dealt with the realities of the disease as it stood today.  But like most entitlements, the constituents, and their very vocal advocates, did not trust the government to bring them the program that they wanted.  While, they all agreed that the Ryan White Care Act was not great, they felt it was better than what they might get.  In the end, the political pressure drove the legislation to be reauthorized and extended four more years.  Determined to not see this, in their view, unwieldy and ineffective Act reauthorized one more time, Kennedy’s staff made sure that the 2009 re-authorization legislative language included a sunset provision that prohibited another re-authorization down the road.

 Well Things Have Changed – Haven’t They?

The biggest problem with AIDS today is that people no longer feel guilty nor afraid of the disease!
– Britt Weinstock, Senior Health Policy Advisor – Congressional Black Caucus

Well they have and have not.  Illustrated in the statement made by Britt Weinstock (one of the brightest and dedicated individuals I have met in Washington DC) in a meeting with me in 2007, the overall nature of the nations focus and funding for HIV/AIDS had changed.  It was then getting increasingly difficult to get attention in congress and squeeze out the necessary funding.  When the Ryan White Care Act was originally conceived the nature and treatment of HIV/AIDS was that of a terminal illness on the rise to a national epidemic.  Today it can be a treatable, if chronic, condition.  Then people diagnosed with AIDS had an expected lifetime of a few months to 8 years.  Today, with treatment, they can live mostly full and productive lives.  Like most other chronic diseases we face today, as the prognosis for HIV/AIDS has improved the lifetime cost of treatment has increased many fold.

As far as the Affordable Care Act goes, if this legislation continues to be enacted, it will prohibit insurers from barring HIV/AIDS patients from getting insurance to cover their needs – a seemingly good thing.  In fact, many states have already set up special funds for patients with pre-existing conditions and temporary high-risk insurance pools as an interim solution till the ACA takes full effect.  In the May revision of California Governor Brown’s 2011-12 Budget, the Office of AIDS are projecting saving some money by changing ADAP eligibility so that some of the covered patients shift into the states Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP).  This program is a federally funded program and does not, at this point, receive any funding from the California State General Fund.  With cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security now in open discussion, will such programs be deemed as necessary?  With Ms. Weinstock’s statement in mind will American citizens agree with the priority of additional funding?

As a result of the historical empathy and generosity of Californians, HIV/AIDS patients in California currently receive some of the best program benefits in the US today, and as a result, the public health crisis from HIV/AIDS has been contained and almost all patients in California have access to quality care and the required medications.  The question is – for how long?

As was seen in the 2009 re-authorization of Ryan White, many politicians did not want to be on the wrong side of the HIV/AIDS or GLBT activist communities and as such even the lion of the senate yielded and agreed to their demands for re-authorization.  But the game has definitely changed!  Before the choice for politicians was either, I agree to fund these programs or, since there was no insurance or other option for HIV/AIDS patients – they would die.

Today, the question politicians have to answer from the general public is; “Why do we need these types of programs? We just passed ObamaCare and everyone now gets insurance, or subsidies to buy insurance!”  The question for HIV/AIDS and other special disease state patients is, will politicians, having many fiscal-crisis related issues now the focus before them – without the ability to just print money to pay for them as we have in the past – have the strength to stand up to the rest of the fiscally troubled middle-class and say…

“Well you see…  Ahhh…  Well…  the Affordable Care Act…  aaaa, really didn’t cover everyone they way we thought…  And you see…”

Or will they just not re-authorize Ryan White and other special disease state programs like it and push it all off to MediCare, Medicaid and the ACA or the states.

How long can politicians in Washington, DC and Sacramento, continue to fund these needed programs?  How long will the politicians have the courage to stand up and continue in light of the looming fiscal crisis and its impact on seniors, disabled, children and under-served middle class and lower class Americans?  The question to the politicians really will be,

“Why do we need these programs if we just passed ObamaCare and spent trillions on it?”

“Politicians could use the answer, “Well….  Ahhh…  You see – aaaaa…..  Well it’s like this, you see, the Affordable Care Act really didn’t protect everyone!”  Some politicians may see it as a safer action – a more re-electable action – to not reauthorize these programs because; unlike before, when the choice was either we authorize these programs or people die because they can’t get insurance; now, to the vast majority of Americans, it seems no longer necessary because we just spent trillions to ensure that everyone has health care –  didn’t we?  Can a politician stand there and tell Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class America that the health needs for this increasing but still minority population of Americans is greater than their own fiscal needs?  And more importantly will these middle class Americans have the willingness to accept it.  Do we truly think, that we can fund everything we want by just taxing the richest 1%, 5%, or 10% of Americans?  If you look at the numbers, despite the rhetoric, we probably can’t.

This is a tough one!  Regardless of how anyone feels about the ACA – and almost no one actually likes it on either side – just like most other government programs, it is designed for somewhat near the lower-middle of the bell curve.  The people on the extreme edges of the bell curve get either poor or no benefit from these programs.  This is a fiscal reality.  The cost of the benefits for the people in the covered range of the bell curve where the programs are offered, has to be born by all the rest of the population.  The fringes never really get completely covered, even though the center of the bell is not in the middle-point of these curves.  So, we will always likely need specialty programs if we are going to commit to have the government take care of the most fragile among us!

It remains to be seen if this will be the case.  As I said, I am very concerned at this point that the Givernment of the People, By the People, and For the People is still able to do this, unless we rethink what this commitment means and more importantly, how to accomplish it.  We need to fundamentally restructure healthcare and rework, from scratch, the supply chain.  Perhaps we need to look not just at the government, but beyond government as well, to our individual relationships with, and responsibilities to, each other if we hope to find some answers.

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¹ Wikipedia contributors. “Ryan White Care Act.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 May. 2011. Web. 8 Jul. 2011.

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause (Part 4)

The patient protection and affordable care act purchase mandate –
A four-part series on the relation and effects of the Commerce
Clause to Health Care

By: Thomas W. Loker

The following is the last segment of a four-part series where author, Tom Loker, explores the impact of the Commerce Clause on Obama-Care.

Image by Author

PART FOUR: A Time for a Fresh Look

In the last article, Sliding Down the Slope, we discussed how continuing court decisions and additional legislations have continued to push us further and further down the slope of federal oversight and control of increasingly larger parts of our daily lives. We also looked at how our historical interpretation of the commerce clause has muddied the water as to where the responsibility of the states to regulate our actions ends and responsibility federal government begins. Now, let’s look at this, from an everyday person’s perspective, as to what this may mean related to the current debate over the constitutionality of the PPACA mandate for all to purchase insurance.

 Who’s Right?

However, going back to the issues the framers were attempting to protect against, is it consistent with the framers view that the expansion of liability, as it is promulgated under this act, should so far abrogate personal responsibility as to the outcome of bad choice and bad behavior? Merely arguing that there is some benefit to a consumer does not make the clause relevant. The original expansion argument under Filbern that any commerce can be derived to be interstate commerce no longer seems to be a reasonable inference. Intrastate commerce itself is not innately subject to federal jurisdiction. The principle motivation to protect the consumer is not, in-and-of-itself, sufficient justification to regulate intrastate commerce, nor does it immediately give rise to the notion that all commerce is interstate.

The issue of the application of the Commerce Clause related to PPACA is even more muddled in that one of the principled arguments against this legislation is that it does not open the state-centered administration of health insurance nor does it provide an open and competitive interstate market. Most, if not all states, specifically regulate insurance provided within their borders. The inability of consumers to purchase insurance plans across state lines itself should stave off the argument that this is in some way per se interstate commerce and subject to the clause. The historical Filbern argument is even more difficult to rationalize in the absence of a transportable open state policy mandate.

Intrastate Regulation and Fairness

A reach to enforce the mandate for purchase of insurance under the auspices of the Commerce Clause is a hard one, indeed, in that the benefits to consumers that could be argued in the justification to impinge individual freedoms and economic liberties for the greater good are lost when the purchase itself is confined within intrastate regulation. Effective argument can only be made based on interstate availability of insurance whereby the policies available across the state line are comparable in standard of fees and services provided and transportable from state to state after purchase. An item, good, or service that is purchased in, and only is consumable, within one state and is subject only to the regulations of the state where the service was purchased and consumed in no way logically rises to become interstate. Further, any argument that attempts to provide nexus for an interstate affect, as in the case of Filburn, should be deemed to interpretation in the same manner as was done in Lopez.

A Voice Speaks Out

Specifically in relation to the Commerce Clause; let us agree with Justice Kennedy and walk a slow and careful path. In every case possible, let us demur to the authority of the state and the preservation of individual rights and liberties.

Finally, most recently in hearings of the Judiciary Committee relating to the debate for the need of tort reform legislation pursuant to the PPACA debate, one congressman, who shall remain nameless, while arguing why Tort reform was not necessary for the federal government to consider, made the following argument: He stated that in his long history as a strong states’ rights advocate, he had never seen an instance where health care was provided in a clinical setting and where the clinic existed simultaneously in two states, or between the borders of two states. As such, the provision of care was always done within the border of one state and therefore could not be interstate. The congressman further stated that if the person received care in one state, while a resident of another state, and that the care was provided under the licensure, regulations and authority of the state where the service was provided, that this was still no more interstate commerce than any other commercial action as prosecuted within a state on a daily basis.

Clearly, the evolution of the argument of the Commerce Clause, as providing a basis for regulations governing protection to consumers, can from time to time provide a broad and expedient method to justify such federal powers; these powers are innately the proverbial slippery slope. The framers carefully crafted the Constitution to preserve individual liberties and freedoms above all others. To allow expansion of federal powers under the aegis of the Commerce Clause, which has happened over the past few hundred years, is one of the more dangerous areas of law we have today. As such, full and unfettered caution must ensue.

The Judge Steps Up

Justice Kennedy wrote,

“[T]he Court as an institution, and the legal system as a whole, have an immense stake in the stability of our Commerce Clause jurisprudence as it has evolved to this point. Stare decisis operates with great force in counseling us not to call into question the essential principles now in place respecting the congressional power to regulate transactions of a commercial nature. That fundamental restraint on our power forecloses us from reverting to an understanding of commerce that would serve only an 18th century economy, dependent then upon production and trading practices that had changed but little over the preceding centuries; it also mandates against returning to the time when congressional authority to regulate undoubted commercial activities was limited by a judicial determination that those matters had an insufficient connection to an interstate system.”

Let us agree with Justice Kennedy and walk a slow and careful path. In every case possible, let us demur to the authority of the state and the preservation of individual rights and liberties. I also suggest we only allow federal regulation when such regulation is meant to provide a mechanism by which it can normalize controls on behalf of consumers among states; where interstate commerce requires only federal control for solution or provision of benefit; or where it is necessary to regulate the actions among the states, not among or between the citizens of the states. Let us be mindful that the actions of the states themselves will not harm the public good or unfairly impost taxes, duties or levies between the states or with other nations or Indian tribes.

This treatise, outlied in these four articles, is just one lay person’s read of this issue. If we cannot explain it to every man and woman. Perhaps the reach is simply too far!

Please remember to post a comment below.  If you like the article please let others know about it!

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause (Part 3)

The patient protection and affordable care act purchase mandate –
A four-part series on the relation and effects of the Commerce
Clause to Health Care

By: Thomas W. Loker

The following is the third segment of a four-part series where author, Tom Loker, explores the impact of the Commerce Clause on Obama-Care.

Part Three: Sliding Down the Slope

The Dreaded Slipery Slope

At the end of the last article, Simple Issues – Complicated Problems, we were discussing some of the earlier expansions of the federal reach under the commerce clause and one landmark case, Wickard vs. Filburn, which strains many ordinary people’s cognitive grasp.   There are some other significant legislations and court decisions that take this strain to a new level – perhaps venturing into lands, heretofore, exclusively explored by the venerable Rod Sterling of Twilight Zone fame.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, made law that the liability for addiction and potential harm of a nostrum was in the hands of the person who purchased it not the manufacturer

In the late 1880’s, the rise in power of monopolies and cartels was having a deleterious effect on the population.  State laws provided effective controls intrastate, but the lack of solid legislative protections for the patent medicine manufacturers interstate was leaving them open to both economic and physical damage. The so called patent medicines were not protected by patent at all. Patents mandated disclosure of materials and methods so instead these manufacturers relied on trade secrets and brand protection.  Brand protection on an interstate level was the root of the problem for the patent medicine men.  In this mix grew one of the most dangerous cartels, the Proprietary Manufacturers Association, the makers of patent medicines.  While most states had forms of trademark protection, it was effective interstate protections that the Proprietary Association effectively lobbied for, and congress passed, with the Trademark Act of 1870.  Enacted under the authority of article 1, section 8, clause 8 alongside the Commerce Clause (clause 3), the Trademark Act allowed the members of the Proprietary Association to receive additional protections fostering their rapid growth and providing an instrument that allowed them to secure their brands interstate without having to disclose their formula or ingredients.  The effect on the population was devastating, not so much as to the economic impact, but to the addictive and deadly nature of the hidden ingredients in these nostrums. The effect on congress was even more troubling as the association’s power grew exponentially and soon they controlled 80% of all newspapers in the U.S., and with that and other contract-related devices, they had substantially gained effective legislative control.

Trademark Law Found Unconstitutional

As part of the political battle taking hold to reign in this emerging problem, the initial Trademark Act was challenged and found unconstitutional because it failed to make any reference to commerce with foreign nations, among several states, or with Indian tribes.  Moreover, the court found that the act made no mention of “the character of the trade to which it was to be applied or the residency of the owner.”   The battle continued with the Trademark Act of 1881, and then later the Trademark Act of 1905.

In addition to the Trademark laws that were effectively lobbied on behalf of the patent medicine men, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was another step in  the government’s battle to protect the citizenry.  Created to control the anticompetitive and harmful actions of cartels like the Proprietary Manufacturers Association, the Sherman Act provided a framework to protect consumers from anticompetitive behaviors of cartels, monopolies and trusts.  Reflecting the political climate of the day, and the power of the Proprietary Manufacturers Association, the Sherman Act politicians were virtually unwilling to use the law until Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency fifteen years later.  Specifically justified under the Commerce Clause, the Sherman Act and the extensions that followed like the Clayton Act, Robinson-Patman Act and other pieces of law began to leverage the Commerce Clause as a means to argue for and extend the reach of federal regulation in areas of interstate commerce, particularly when it was for the good of the consumer.

The Control of the Patent Medicine Industry

Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U.S. 373 (1911) established that Retail Price Maintenance (RPM) was per se illegal and helped to interrupt the significant control the patent medicine industry was exerting over retailers of the period.  The tenant of the per se illegality of Retail Price Maintenance remained black letter until recent years.  Recent rulings like GTE Sylvania (1977) and Leegin Creative Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 128 S. Ct 2705 (2007) have begun to reverse these long standing decisions as reconsideration by the courts are again questioning the underlying basis of authority under the Commerce Clause.

Like Wickard v. Filburn, the creation and enforcement of the Sherman Act was motivated by the desire to protect the public.  Unlike Filburn, the Sherman Act stays well within the logical confines of interstate commerce to provide its authority for the protection of the consumer. It also serves to establish a limited framework for its use.  This act provided an indirect method by which to limit harm to consumers being wrought from the Proprietary Manufacturers Association.  This indirect method also became necessary and appropriate because the courts at that time did not recognize an ability to assess the manufacturer of an items liability mainly because the consumer made a reasonable choice.

As seen codified in the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, much of the liability for the addiction and the potential harm of a nostrum was not in the hands of the manufacturer, but in the hands of the person responsible for its purchase. So, as long as the manufacturer made the consumer aware of any of a list of specific potentially “harmful” ingredients it was thought to be held harmless.

Civil Rights Act—Interstate Normalization

The Commerce Clause has repeatedly been used to help legislate behaviors at the federal level.  After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Supreme Court issued several rulings supporting the use of the Commerce Clause in regulating enforcement of discriminatory behavior in businesses.  In the case of Heart of Atlanta  v. United States, 379 U.S. 241, the court ruled that Congress could regulate a business that served mostly interstate travelers.  More interestingly, in Daniel v. Paul, 395 U.S. 298 (1969), the court ruled that the regulation of recreational facilities was permitted because three out of four items sold at its snack bar were purchased outside of the state thereby subjecting the facility to the jurisdiction of the federal regulation under the Commerce Clause.

Again, it is clear that the intention of the act itself was to protect consumers against discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin.  The intention of this particular legislation is clear and understandable.  For the everyday person, the argument endorsed in Daniel v. Paul becomes problematic in that it smacks of interpretation driven by outcome.  For most readers, it is very hard to swallow that the Commerce Clause comes into play because some or even most of the items sold in a related activity may have been subject to interstate purchase.  This stretch makes it hard to find any tacit alignment that bolsters the rest of the arguments many of which appear weak and overly broad.

Gun Free School Zones

Gun-Free School Zones v. Lopez, the Supreme Court was faced with a challenging decision.  A 12th grade student had been convicted of carrying a concealed handgun into a school in violation of the Gun–Free School Zones Act of 1990.  The lower court found that in Wickard v. Filburn the Court had ruled that Congress was exercising its Commerce Clause power to police local economic activity because the individual states were powerless to regulate it themselves. More specifically, this was determined to be the case because in the opinion of the court only the federal government was able to manage the national wheat supply and control prices.  The lower court reasoned that if you extrapolated the same arguments to acts of gun violence because crime negatively affected education, congress could conclude that crime in schools clearly affected commerce; therefore it ought to be federally regulated.

Nationalizing Police Power

One can rapidly come to the conclusion that if this in fact were true, the entirety of all police power in all states could be nationalized because all crime therefore has some impact on interstate commerce. In this case, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts verdict.  Justice Thomas, in his concurring opinion, argued that allowing Congress to regulate intrastate, noncommercial activity under the Commerce Clause would confer on Congress a general “police power” over the entire nation.

Clearly, once again, the intention was to find some way to allow the federal government to help protect the citizenry from harmful acts.  While the intention was and is noble, the argument that this is an applicable extension of federal power under the Commerce Clause simply does not hold.  In allowing these stretches to carry our normal imagination to such levels that old Rod would be proud.  Mr. Sterling started each show with the quote, “You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous – land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!”  The difference between Mr. Sterling’s excursions and the commerce clause debate, are that the ramifications of this mind trip have very significant  consequences on each of us, and ultimately the health care we will be able to
access.  In the last and final article we will discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (PPACA)

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause (Part 2)

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause

The patient protection and affordable care act purchase mandate

A four-part series on the relation and effects of the Commerce Clause to Health Care

By: Thomas W. Loker

The following is the second segment of a four-part series where author, Tom Loker, explores the impact of the Commerce Clause on Obama-Care.

Part Two: Simple Issues—Complicated Problem

In the prior segment, Clear Words – Muddy Intent, we discussed the evolving debate over for what most people on the surface seems a simple, clear and concise statement as to where the federal branch of government’s responsibility related to commerce begins and ends.  The simple and direct interpretation that most laypeople draw from the Commerce Clause—which is an “enumerated power” in the United States Constitution (article I, section 8), that provides that Congress has the power ” To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”—is that when commerce transpires among the states, as in between one or more states, then the federal branch is responsible to provide regulations that control such commercial transactions, and when commerce is between citizens inside of the boundaries of a state then it is the state’s responsibility to regulate those transactions.  This seems clear to most people but…

Over the past several hundred years, smart men, (perhaps sometimes not-so-smart) often trying to secure honorable goals, (OK, sometimes selfish goals) for the common good, (yes, sometimes not for the common good at all) have parsed, prodded, twisted and convoluted these sixteen simple words into marvelous interpretations that confound the average persons intellect.

Wickard v. Filburn: A broad reach?

Filburn was growing more wheat than allowed—even though it for private consumption. He was fined and ordered to destroy his crops by the federal government.

The historical applications of the authority as interpreted under the sixteen words in this clause have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  In Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that increased the power of the federal government to regulate what  would seem to most a state-based, perhaps private activity.  Roscoe Filburn was growing wheat for his own consumption.  As part of the “New Deal” legislation, rushed through congress to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 limited the area in which farmers could devote to wheat production. Filburn was growing more wheat than was permissible—beyond the limits even though it was not for sale. Filburn intended it for private consumption. Ultimately, he was fined and ordered to destroy his crops.  The courts found that because Filburn was growing more wheat than allowed, his actions somehow reduced the amount he would have purchased on the open market. Simply because wheat was traded nationally, the courts maintained Filburn’s acts affected interstate commerce which meant that he was under the federally regulated mandate of the court’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause.

The Government’s Unfettered Access

It seems that it is a difficult and dangerous stretch to view the Commerce Clause as a law that allows the federal government unfettered license to restrict individual freedoms in the same manner as the restrictions against Filburn. By nature of the argument as upheld in Filburn, any self-reliant activity could be determined to impede commerce in that if I,  as an individual grow it, hunt it, or fish it, then I am not purchasing the item from others and therefore am affecting interstate commerce.  I further find the argument specious, in that there is no basis to determine, other than abject supposition, that should Filburn have not grown his wheat himself that the wheat would have been purchased from an interstate supplier instead of an intrastate source.   More likely in keeping with the times, he would have simply bartered for the un-grown grain in the first place.  I believe this is a very dangerous expansion of federal powers that directly and potentially infringe permanently upon Filburn’s liberties which, in the end, caused him economic harm.

What’s the Logic?

If this remains the modern interpretation of the Commerce Clause, then it is would be clear that the mandate to purchase health care, as proscribed by the PPACA, strictly by the historic definition as decided in Wickard v. Filburn is therefore constitutional because any commerce between parties, even intra-state, can affect the purchase of goods and services inter-state.  Further, using the same logic, any affect that the lack of purchase could have on the cost of care to others within a state to offset the cost to the individuals supported by the state’s health systems, including private insurance, Medicaid, community based etc., would also become subject to the federal regulation under the commerce clause.

There are at least two flies in the ointment to these arguments.  One is the obvious one as discussed in the Wickard v. Filburn case, which is that it is a large conceptual leap for most normal people to see how the actions that Mr. Filburn engaged in should have been subject to federal intervention in the first place.  But the second, and more interesting, argument is based on the circumstances of how insurance is actually provided to citizens of the states in the first place, and the resistance by some in the federal government to actually have a national insurance market at all.

Crossing State Lines?

Insurance within states today is subject to regulations that exist in, and are specific to, each state.  Health care provided within one state is subject to the health regulations of that state.  There is little, to no, transportability of an insurance policy for a worker in Pittsburg, Penn. to have the same policy in San Francisco, Calif.  Recently, during a congressional hearing on tort reform, one democratic congressional representative (and noted constitutional lawyer) remarked—and I will paraphrase here—that since health care was not provided in a manner that it crossed state lines, that in every case he was aware of such care was provided within the jurisdiction of the state, and since he had never heard of care being provided in any hospital where the patient receiving care, or the hospital itself for that matter, existed simultaneously in two states at the same time, therefore, in his learned opinion, tort reform was a state’s rights issue and not subject to federal jurisdiction under the commerce clause.   So how is it that the foregoing statement can be factual and true, while at the same time Wickard v. Filburn is also true?  One of them simply must be a dangerous canard!  But the key question is which one?  This is THE question that today we, the people, must decide as the outcome of this decision will either fundamentally empower us or further restrict our life and liberties.   This must be our collective choice alone.

In the next installment, we will look at other regulations and decisions by the courts that further confound this vital determination, and most importantly, further expand the gulf between the ordinary ability of a normal person to read and understand common language and the legal wrangling and interpretations that follow.