"Great cases make bad law" -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Column by Jim Flynn

The Supreme Court has heard the oral arguments about the Affordable Care Act, (Obamacare) and the justices have held their preliminary closed meeting. The Court will hand down its decision in June.
In the meantime, even though we haven’t read the 2000 pages of the Affordable Care Act, bloggers, talk-show hosts, and columnists are exercising their opinions about the life or death of Obamacare. We consider our right to have opinions as sacred as freedom of speech.
The supporters’ sales pitch is that Obamacare will create a better health care system, make insurance companies more accountable, and provide coverage for all Americans. The real issues are federal power, states’ rights, and money.
Beginning in the late 1800s, a number of European countries sponsored or allowed various kinds of sickness insurance. In some countries it was openly socialistic. In others, conservatives offered limited health plans to head off demands from labor.
Health insurance for workers evolved more slowly in the U.S. The socialist party and labor were focused more on wages than on benefits. The federal government left sickness and health matters to the states.
In the early 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressives began support for health insurance because of their belief the U.S. would not be a strong nation unless it cared for its sick and poor citizens.
A real campaign began in 1912 when the Association of Labor Legislation drafted a model for national health insurance for working class families earning less than $1,200 a year. For a few years the idea had the support of the American Medical Association (AMA), but their enthusiasm faded. Strangely, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was opposed to the idea. AFL was suspicious of business and state supervision of people’s social needs.
Renewed talk about national health insurance after World War I ran into opposition from business, labor, doctors, and insurance companies. Interest rose again in the 1930s when the costs of medical and hospital care began to rise.
After Franklin Roosevelt became president (1933), a diverse group of economists, philanthropies, and public health organizations campaigned to spend more national resources on health care. The AMA characterized the movement as socialized medicine.
There were several attempts to develop a program of national health insurance during the Roosevelt terms (1933-1945). A bill to establish compulsory insurance funded by a payroll tax was introduced in every session of Congress for 14 years, but never passed. President Harry Truman (1945-53) was also a staunch advocate of national health insurance, but during his tenure critics went beyond calling it socialized medicine. Ohio Senator Robert Taft (1939-l953) called it a page out of the Soviet Communist textbook.
After World War II private health insurance expanded rapidly, and agitation for national health insurance declined. Medicare and Medicaid also reduced interest.
Now, after more than a hundred years, all the same players are waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare – liberals, conservatives, business, unions, medicine, and insurance companies. It’s ironic that each of the interested parties has switched sides at least once. It’s called the politics of self-interest.