The Obamacare debate rages on. It's currently in front of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals as well as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Many people follow the Obamacare debate, but it's a complicated issue and not always one that makes total sense, even to those following it. Last week, President Barack Obama's administration made some effort to defend the individual mandate. Unfortunately for them, their words got used against them.
The question of the individual mandate was brought up by Bush-appointed Judge Jeffrey Sutton. Before we get into the exchange between Sutton and Acting Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal, let's step back and talk about the individual mandate.
The Individual Mandate.
The healthcare legislation added a section to the Internal Revenue Code. Essentially, it stated that there was a "Requirement to Maintain Minimum Essential Coverage." If one didn't maintain the required minimum essential coverage, then there would be a penalty (or tax, as Obama's administration calls it). Of course, there were exceptions to this requirement. For example, those below a certain income level were exempt from the requirement to maintain healthcare and would potentially be provided with government subsidized healthcare.
Now for the oral arguments. Katyal was asked by Judge Sutton whether he could name a Supreme Court case where the court considered the same question as was put forth by the mandate, namely, whether the mandate fell within the Congressional use of the Commerce Clause.
Katyal admitted that the issue had "never been confronted directly" by the Supreme Court but introduced the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel as relevant, where Congress was allowed to use the Commerce Clause to bar discrimination by private businesses.
The 6th Circuit's response, as reported in The Washington Examiner:
"They're in the business," Sutton pushed back. "They're told if you're going to be in the business, this is what you have to do. In response to that law, they could have said, 'We now exit the business.' Individuals don't have that option."
Of course, cited Kaytal, individuals could "exit" too, as there exists a provision that allows people to avoid the individual mandate, namely, a hardship exemption.
Katyal's response has been simplified by many reporters and reduced to this simple phrase:
If you don't like Obamacare, just make less money and you can opt out.
- Obamacare Lawsuits on Their Way to The 6th Circuit (FindLaw's 6th Circuit Blog)
- 4th Circuit Asks: 'Is Obamacare Unconstitutional?' (FindLaw's U.S. Fourth Circuit Blog)
- Obamacare Lawsuit: Is Justice Elena Kagan Impartial? (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)