Saturday, February 6, 2016

Obamacare Wins Big in Court, But You Might Not Know It

A federal appeals court this week upheld the law's core element, the mandate that requires everyone to have insurance. For the first time in a health reform lawsuit, a judge has crossed party lines. You might expect news like this to appear on the front page of every major daily newspaper, including this one. But you would be wrong.

Obamacare Wins Big in Court, But You Might Not Know It

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Hold the presses. Breaking news. Obamacare has scored another big win in court.

A federal appeals court this week upheld the law’s core element, the mandate that requires everyone to have insurance. It found that Congress has clear constitutional power to enact it. (Follow this link for the full opinion.)

This is the first health reform ruling at the appellate stage. The others to date have been in lower courts. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which delivered the decision, is one step below the Supreme Court, so the opinion lends important support to the law as the case works its way up.

But there is even bigger news. For the first time in a health reform lawsuit, a judge has crossed party lines. Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, a conservative on constitutional matters appointed by President George W. Bush, voted to uphold the law.

Early in his career, Judge Sutton had served as a law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the current Supreme Court’s most conservative members. This adds even more significance to his decision.

You might expect news like this to appear on the front page of every major daily newspaper, including this one. But you would be wrong.

The Inquirer reported the story on page A4. The New York Times on page A15. And the Washington Post on page A5. And no headlines appeared on the homepages on these papers’ websites the day after the decision was announced.

In fact, news of Obamacare’s three other court victories was also absent from the front pages of prominent dailies. A review by Washington Monthly noted that both the Times and the Post reported those decisions deep within their news sections.

 It’s not as if these major newspapers think the health reform lawsuits are unimportant. There have been two lower court decisions that ruled against the law, and they both received front page play.

What’s more, Washington Monthly also counted the number of words in all of these stories. It found that reports on the negative rulings contained over twice as many on average than those on the positive rulings.

What gives? It isn’t as if these papers oppose the law. To the contrary, their editorials have favored it.

The reasons aren’t clear. One possibility is that they find it less newsworthy when a court upholds a law than when it strikes one down.

That may be true in some cases, but not for health reform. The flurry of lawsuits has convinced many that the law stands on shaky legal ground. The string of victories for Obamacare in lower courts, and now in an appeals court before a conservative judge, shows that this conventional wisdom may be wrong. That is real news.

Two more federal appeals courts will rule on health reform in the months ahead. Those decisions deserve to make front page news whichever way they go.

To check out more Check Up items go to www.philly.com/checkup

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About this blog

Check Up is a blog for savvy health consumers, covering the latest developments, discoveries, and debates from the Philadelphia area and beyond.

Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Robert I. Field, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H. Professor, Drexel University Kline School of Law & Dornsife School of Public Health
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