By Gloria J. Browne-Marshall
President Barack Obama placed his presidency on the line for national healthcare, known as Obamacare. Conservative Republicans shut down America’s national government over it. Here are five reasons why Obamacare scares people.
First, an African American man in the White House will be surrounded with controversy no matter what law or policy he advocates. With the advent of national healthcare, this 44th President carved out a place in history far beyond being the country’s first Black man in that office. Where previous Presidents attempted to enact national healthcare, this Black man succeeded.
Although President Obama has met many challenges – ending two wars, finding Osama Bin Laden, and fixing the economy – Obamacare, a mixture of free preventive services, policies, and regulations, has become his signature legislation adding to his controversial legacy. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, like all aspects of the Obama presidency, reveals divisions within this nation.
Second, government programs for the poor raise fears of socialism, robbing the rich to give to the poor. In 1935, there was similar controversy regarding the Social Security Act. President Roosevelt made history by giving retired adult pensions, or Social Security, to keep them from poverty. The Social Security Act, like Obamacare, was considered a program of socialism that would bankrupt the country.
In 2010, similar fears were heard about the Obamacare. The House of Representatives barely based the Affordable Care Act in a vote of 219-212, with Republicans refusing to vote for it. The Senate’s vote of 60-39 was also along party lines. With Republicans seeking to re-take the White House in 2016, Obamacare was marked for defeat.
Third, Obamacare was labelled unconstitutional. On March 23, 2010, when President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or Obamacare into law, States began suing the Federal government alleging Obamacare was illegal because it forced States to expand their number of people on Medicaid, a State insurance plan for the poor. Then, individuals challenged the Obamacare mandate requiring each person have insurance.
Corporations sued over the cost of offering insurance to their employees.
Those legal cases required an unprecedented three days of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. During which Justice Antonin Scalia boasted of not even reading the 1,500 page healthcare law and many thought Obamacare was defeated. Protesters marched in front of the courthouse. It was national news.
Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, upheld Obamacare. One conservative protester became hysterical when she heard the decision. Chief Justice Roberts was vilified by Republicans. His decision remains a point of controversy. However, Obamacare survived this legal test. The Social Security Act was challenged before the Supreme Court. Like Obamacare, it survived those legal challenges.
Fourth, Obamacare is a confusing mixture of preventive services, hospital rules, and State regulations.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia famously said he had not read it even though he was to decide if the law was constitutional. These complexities allow Obamacare to be labeled with suspicion. However, it was conservative Republican Mitt Romney, who first created mandated health insurance as Governor of Massachusetts.
After President Obama defeated Mitt Romney, the political controversy surrounding Obamacare went from bad to worse. The election results showed a schism in the country between liberals and conservatives, especially concerning national healthcare. Within days of his re-election, President Obama, and his policies, came under an attack focused on Obamacare.
Republicans in Congress have attempted, unsuccessfully, to repeal Obamacare 42 times. In dramatic fashion, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (R-TX), a conservative, staged a 21 hour anti-Obamacare rant on the U.S. Senate floor during which he read, among other things, the children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss.
Fifth, if it is successful, Republicans may fear those people will vote for Democrats in 2016.
This fear has led to the shutting down of the Federal government. On October 1, 2013, enrollment in national healthcare began.
And with it America begins a new era. Only days before the start of Obamacare registration, Republicans told President Obama to delay the October sign-up date for a year. In exchange, they would pass a temporary operating budget for the country.
President Obama refused. It was a controversial choice. Congress controls the budget.
The President refused to allow the country to be held hostage. But, without money, the Federal government must shut down. But, despite the controversy, so many applicants for healthcare accessed the government’s website it nearly crashed.
Millions of Americans signed on for national healthcare. Conservatives told them to opt-out of Obamacare and face a financial penalty in 2014 rather than have health insurance. But, people chose Obamacare. Instead of using emergency rooms as their primary care physician, the working poor, students, and the unemployed chose to live longer, healthier lives.
All fears aside, Obamacare begins a new era in America. And – once again, President Obama has made history.
Gloria J. Browne- Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present,” and a writer covering the U.S. Supreme Court, and major court cases. Twitter: GBrowneMarshall