SHU Presents Panel on Politics, the Supreme Court and the Affordable Health Care Act

CT State Representative Gail Lavielle, left, and Senator Toni Harp participated in a panel discussion entitled "Politics, the Supreme Court and the Affordable Care Act" on October 18.

News Story: November 5, 2012

Politics, the Supreme Court and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) were the topics of a panel discussion at Sacred Heart University recently. Before a packed room at the William H. Pitt Health & Recreation Center, students, faculty and guests heard from a panel made up of State Senator Toni Harp (D), State Representative Gail Lavielle (R), Gary Rose, professor and chair of Sacred Heart’s Government & Politics Department, and Patricia Walker, dean of the University’s College of Health Professions, who moderated the panel.

Walker began the discussion with a summary of the goals of the PPACA and put the law into the context of a long history of Americans providing a “safety net” for the most vulnerable in our population, especially the elderly and children.  She described healthcare reform as a transformation that has been more of a continuous process of change rather than a one-time event, including the authorization of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003 and, most recently, the PPACA. A characteristic of this transformation is the balancing act between the fear by Americans of government control and the long-held American value of looking out for each other in trying times, she said.
In his opening remarks, Rose told his audience that despite the best intentions of the founding fathers, it would be naïve to think that the Supreme Court does not play politics. He also noted that even though the court regularly makes rulings that impact the future of the country, the members are not necessarily the best legal minds available. In fact, he said, of the 112 justices we have had, 43 had never had any judicial experience before assuming the bench.

He pointed out that traditionally Supreme Court appointments have been a partisan process with Republican presidents appointing Republicans and Democratic presidents appointing Democrats. Regarding the Court’s ruling on the PPACA, he said the surprise was that the deciding vote turned out to be that of Chief Justice John Roberts who aligned himself with the liberal side of the court on this issue. The court ruled that while the law could not be deemed constitutional under the argument of commerce power, it was constitutional under the government’s right to impose taxes.

“I think that Roberts looked at the polarization in this county and decided that it was time to make a decision that would show some level of compromise,” Rose said. “Both sides could claim some level of victory with this ruling. Roberts was playing the peacemaker.”

Lavielle added that the passage of a law with such immense implications reconciles the fear of too much government intervention and the obligation to take care of the vulnerable. She said the financial implications for Connecticut, if all the regulations are respected, will be $285 million and more than 400,000 man hours.

She noted that the Supreme Court decision played out against the public backlash that resulted from the Bush/Gore presidential election and Citizen United decisions. “Citizens have an expectation that the court will deliver its opinions based not on the context of the case, but on the law itself. That is not necessarily the case,” she said. “Roberts may have been thinking of the image and perception of the court – that this might make future 5-4 rulings seem less partisan and more credible.”

Speaking about the PPACA, Harp stated that the U.S. has a sloppy and inefficient healthcare system with one of the highest rates of healthcare-related bankruptcies in the world. “We have a lot of issues to resolve, such as double-digit increases in health-care costs because insurance companies are helping hospitals cover the cost of emergent care for the uninsured and baby boomers who are coming up against a broken system,” she said.

She said that one in seven Americans have no health-care coverage and some of those that do just have the bare minimum.  She told the group that Connecticut was the first state in the nation to apply for the expanded coverage group under Medicaid, which resulted in an increase from 45,000 to 83,000 in eligible Medicaid recipients. “Because of the costs involved, we are now looking to reduce some of the benefits in the plan, but we want to make sure these people have some coverage.”

She believes the PPACA will lead to more efficient and effective ways of delivering health care and the availability of services to those who did not have access to them before.

During the question & answer period, Rose noted that the PPACA is more than 900 pages long. He suspects that many in Congress voted for or against it without knowing about much of what it contained.

In response to a question regarding the law’s controversial requirement that church-related institutions provide for access to contraceptives in their insurance plans, Rose stated his belief that that component of the law is in direct violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. He also suggested that Catholic voters, who tend to be the swing vote in presidential elections, might support the Romney/Ryan ticket as a result of this law. Rose explained that the Catholic swing vote could prove to be decisive in tossup states such as Ohio and Wisconsin.                

The program was sponsored by the College of Health Professions in conjunction with the Department of Government & Politics.