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Should the requirements of the national health-care law be interpreted as a tax?
That’s one of many questions state lawmakers and government officials are debating now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the country’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
As part of the Supreme Court’s prevailing opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts discussed the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” set up in the law, a mandate requiring most U.S. citizens to purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
Roberts said this mandate could be interpreted as a tax, which he said is within Congress’ power.
That decision has set off a cascade of opinions from state government officials, both for and against the law, each with their own interpretations.
In a release, U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney expressed disappointment that the law was upheld.
“This is truly a sad day. The idea that you must purchase health insurance was upheld as constitutional, based on the idea that you will be taxed if you do not comply – not fined or penalized, but taxed,” Mulvaney said.
He worries the law could set a precedent where the government could coerce people with the threat of a tax.
“If future governments don’t like marriage, it will be able to tax you if you want to get married. That goes both ways – for traditional and gay marriage,” Mulvaney said. “If future governments want to limit the size of families, it can tax second and third children. We know there are governments around the world who do this. The Supreme Court today has ruled we are just like them.”
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, was also disappointed with the outcome.
“Since the day this law was rammed through Congress, the American people have demanded repeal, and today’s ruling doesn’t make Obamacare any less dangerous to our nation’s health,” DeMint said in a release.
He urges the health-care law be repealed because he interprets its consequences as a tax.
“We were told it was not a tax hike, but this ruling confirms it is an unprecedented and enormous tax on the poor and middle-class American,” DeMint said. “President Obama needs to explain why he is enacting this middle-class tax hike over the objections of the American people during the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.”
He said the new plan has increased health-care premiums and impacted the hiring of new workers.
While Mulvaney and DeMint each disapproved of the health-care act, another state official praised the plan.
U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, who represents the state’s 6th District and serves as a leading House Democrat, called the Supreme Court ruling a “victory.”
“This is a big, big victory for the American people. President Obama and Democrats in Congress carefully crafted this law on the basic premise that every American deserves affordable access to quality health care as a matter of right and not of privilege,” Clyburn said on his website.
Clyburn favored the act, which he said will benefit Americans in the long run.
“This law puts decisions about medical care in the hands of families and their doctors instead of corporate CEOs,” Clyburn said. “I have said throughout this debate that this law is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century. History will look kindly on this tremendous achievement.”
The ruling was also the topic of a June 28 press conference with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and S.C. Department of Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck.
Haley called the law a “bad policy” that will negatively impact the state’s economy.
“Regardless of the decision that came down, what was bad policy yesterday is bad policy today,” she said. “The fact that the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate means we are looking at one of the largest tax increases on the American people we have ever seen.”
“This is a tax increase for the people of South Carolina. It’s a job killer – and it is the government getting in the way of physicians and the patients,” Haley said.
Keck said the health-care plan creates an “inflexible” program that is not compatible with the state’s unique health problems.
“The challenges that we face are completely different than states around the country. We need the flexibility to make those changes. This decision does not give us that flexibility,” he said.
Flexibility was mentioned again last week in a letter Haley sent to DeMint, supporting the opposition of creating state-based insurance exchanges, where consumers could choose various types of coverage.
Haley cited limited flexibility and the law’s infringement on functions already performed by the private insurance market and rules governed by the Internal Revenue Service as reasons for her opposition.
“Bottom line? By refusing to implement state-based exchanges, the state is ceding nothing – we were given very little in the first place and, unsurprisingly, asked to give far too much in return,” she said.