Did You Hear the One About Health Care?

Last night, the Justice Department filed to quash two class action lawsuits against Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation. The lawsuit seeking to freeze the mandate’s financial penalties immediately – that would amount to a whopping $90 billion in lost revenue per year – threatens the entire aim of the Affordable Care Act. And while that didn’t make for the best impression on Twitter, the damage was minor.

Half of the Justice Dept argues in favor of delivering $90B in fines to states where people are dropped from health care bc they won’t have to give up their coverage & pay the penalty. — Tim Elmore (@RTeelmore) May 6, 2016

The reference to the federal government imposing a tax on uninsured people is a wink to the main thrust of the case against the individual mandate: namely, that it denies free services to Americans, i.e. taxpayers. Obviously there will be federal tax penalties, but how that’s deemed to meet legal definitions of free-range spending from an elected representative remains to be seen. Ironically, by comparison, the Blue Dogs could’ve had no health plan of their own because they’re government employees.

That, however, is unlikely to trump the Obama administration’s contention that the mandate doesn’t impose new obligations, but simply maintains a rational set of penalties on consumers’ decisions not to buy health insurance. Naturally, the Supreme Court is going to have to decide this thing – because there’s no mechanism that provides a way out for states that would make collecting the fine an easier process. And after all, if the Affordable Care Act isn’t the law, who’s to say other judges will look kindly on Supreme Court justices who’ve turned the Bill Clinton-signed reform into law by dubious legal reasoning?

The Supreme Court could decide to stall the mandate because it’s so famously problematic, or it could either uphold it or throw out the whole thing. Unlike the Bush-era privilege to prosecute U.S. citizens for terror-related crimes overseas, which will almost certainly get reinstated by the incoming Trump administration, the rest of the administration’s executive powers will remain intact.

Still, it’s hard to avoid thinking about last night’s rulings in Las Vegas, where the card players having amassed at the first live single-deck craps tournament of its kind organized by gaming company Tarragon. While a scheduled start time of 10pm BST had a decent chance of hinging on the government’s decision, the final scheduled number on top of the pot reached an incredible $1.7 billion as soon as play started at 7pm (the unofficial line of $1.2 billion had the 50-50 pot still remaining as 11:20pm came and went).

Where’s the prediction for 730?

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