HCFA Executive Director Amy Slemmer is in Washington this week, and sent this report from the oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act.
Hello from the US Supreme Court.
I’ve been out front with the crowd joyfully calling for health care for all – a song to my ears. I’ve been in the screening line waiting patiently for the xray machine which was slowed down by suited men who felt the request that they empty their pockets was an insulting demonstration of the police’s ignorance of their importance. I’ve shaken hands with a man whose broad smile rivaled only my own, who announced that he is “with the other side”… which of course prompted a, “but how do you know which side I’m on?” Which made him laugh. Turns out he heads one of the repeal groups. There are several varieties here. There are also hundreds of supporters including union members, lawyers, street activists, and some regular folks from the local area who have shown up to show support for the law. It seems like a very large group of those present are incredibly lucky folks whose vacations happened to fall on this historic week.
Since I was not one of the incredibly fortunate or all-weekend outdoor camping 60 members of the general public who received a ticket today, I decided to mill about and make my way to the 3-minute line. I talked to others in line and the one thing we shared was a tremendous sense of appreciation for the privilege of being where we were today. There was an insurance executive, who did not want to identify himself, but offered up some grudging appreciation for my poetic recitation of MLR (medical loss ratio) rates for Massachusetts as compared to those included in the Affordable Care Act, an HHS staffer who knows of Health Care For All and was effusive with her support, a couple from Canada – one a health care lawyer and her husband each of whom expressed tremendous surprise at the tenor of the protesters, and a family from Philadelphia who were in the middle of a VIP tour of DC. Their line standing experience seemed only slightly exciting, being sandwiched between a tour of the White House and their impending lunch in the Members Only dining room in the Senate. Slightly curious about this high flying foursome, I discovered that they had won their executive treatment as part of an auction “for a really good community cause.” The teen and tween son seemed to be nearly as excited as their parents.
The 3-minute seats are those at the very back of the courtroom, many are behind the heavy velvet drapes that were once used to muffle the sounds outside the legal sanctuary. I was escorted to mine, which had a pretty decent view – but as each tourist is reminded, you may not be able to see all of the Justices, but you can certainly hear everything that is being said.
Massachusetts Reform Cited To The Court
I was there for the closing arguments, and arrived as the Plaintiff’s lawyer (opposing the Affordable Care Act) argued that Congress couldn’t create a market to then regulate it and that the Act was prohibiting young healthy adults from buying catastrophic health coverage. When it was Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli’s turn, he said it was unrealistic to assign people to risk pools when they present in emergency rooms or are sick. You can’t remedy the problem of uninsurance at the point of sale. He also said that this approach is working in Massachusetts and will on a national basis.
Court decorum prohibited me from sending Mr. Verrilli a shoutout from the free seats, but I did enjoy some knowing nods of support and approval from my new line standing friends.
After the arguments ended, I shook hands with some pretty cool people, some of whom would support HCFA’s work, and some who wanted to distinguish between our Massachusetts experience and the Affordable Care Act. I had a lovely, albeit brief, conversation with Secretary Sebelius, who said nice and supportive things, and then I exited slowly so that I could watch the throngs shout and exercise their sometimes coarsely exercised, free speech. As I left, I heard the two sides squaring off. While the opponents of reform were chanting, “Hey Hey. Ho ho. Obamacare has got to go,” the other side’s response was “HEALTH CARE FOR ALL!” This made me smile and put a spring in my step as I decided to follow the noise to a rally that was being held in a park outside the US Senate.
I’m not a crowd analyst, but there were probably 500 people in the park, which was ringed with journalists doing tv, radio, and print reporting and someone on the stage inviting the crowd to stand up for liberty. It only took me a second to scan some outrageous signs to figure out that this was the Tea Party gathering. The words from the stage were incendiary, but focused on the government’s requiring us to buy health insurance as a slippery slope toward making us buy particular types of clothing, food, and cars. While part of me wanted to find some reasonable people to befriend and comfort with the truth of the Massachusetts experience, I decided not to spend too much time in the crowd, as I wouldn’t want to add to the park police’s estimate.
More to come tomorrow as the court holds the two final sessions on the Affordable Care Act.
-Amy Whitcomb Slemmer