Photo of the day

Somehow, I didn’t even know they had been expanding the Panama Canal.  Enjoyed this In Focus gallery of images from the expansion project:

Part of the Panama Canal Expansion project, on the outskirts of Panama City, on August 8, 2014.

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Supreme Court gets it right

Well, despite the apoplectic fits on the right from those who clearly understand little of the Supreme Court or statutory interpretation, the Court clearly got it right in King v. Burwell.  I really like Drum’s short summary:

The Supreme Court decided to keep Obamacare subsidies intact, with both Roberts and Kennedy voting with the liberal judges in a 6-3 decision.
And apparently they upheld the subsidies on the plainest possible grounds:

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan. “In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” [emphasis in Drum] he added. “If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

So this had nothing to do with the possibility that if Congress required states to build their own exchanges in order to get subsidies, that would be unconstitutional coercion on the states. That had been something a few of us speculated on in recent days. Instead it was a white bread ruling: laws have to be interpreted in their entirety, and the entirety of Obamacare very clearly demonstrated that Congress intended subsidies to go to all states, not just those who had set up their own exchanges. [emphasis mine]

Uhhh, yep.  It’s really pretty simple.  And in this (sorry, just the image of the quote– everybody seems to be doing that right in the aftermath) on Slate, there’s a great explanation from Roberts‘ decision on how this is very much judicial restraint, not the judicial activism that they don’t actually understand at all on Fox News.

roberts

And, while we’re at it.  Vox points out how he used the conservative own dissent in the previous big case (Sibelius) to make the case:

Yup, that’s John Roberts quoting the four conservatives who dissented from the first big Supreme Court health care case back in 2012. “Without the federal subsidies … the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all,” they wrote at the time. Regardless of the fog thrown up around this since, Roberts seems to be saying, at one point Congress’s intent was well understood.

Truly, its harder to imagine a much more glaring case of judicial activism than the conservative argument that Congress somehow actually intended to entirely undermine its own law.

And to close this out on a quasi-related note, I really liked this Drum post on why health insurance (which the conservatives really wanted to take away from millions of Americans) is so important:

  • Also, as I like to point out ad nauseam, there’s more to health care than mortality. A dental filling won’t extend your life, but it will sure make you feel better. Ditto for a hip replacement or an antidepressant.
  • Health insurance is a financial lifeline, and in many cases prevents bankruptcy. But there’s more. It’s also a huge reliever of stress. Trying to cobble together care from a complicated, ad hoc network of clinics, ERs, doctors who don’t want to see you, and friends who can loan you a few bucks is soul destroying—especially for people whose lives probably kind of suck to begin with.

In the end, I think this is what health insurance is mostly about: financial security and common decency. Yes, the uninsured can usually patch together health care in an emergency, and sometimes even when it’s not. This is why access to health insurance probably has only a modest effect on health. (Though I don’t believe it’s zero. If we could do a bigger, better, longer-term study we’d almost certainly see a difference.) Still, is a constant, desperate search for health care really a decent thing to tolerate in the richest country in the world? Is relentless, gnawing worry about whether to buy food this week or take your child in for a checkup a decent thing for us to tolerate? Is an endless, threatening barrage of harassment from hospital bill collectors a decent thing for us to tolerate?

Indeed.  So, this is a big win, first in that at least 6 members of the court made the super-obvious call, regardless of politics, and because this means a lot less human suffering than the opposite result.

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