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Happy New Year, Losers | The Nation

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William Greider

William Greider

The fragile and faltering state of American democracy.

Happy New Year, Losers

John Roberts

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, at a 2010 conference. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Chief Justice Roberts wishes a Happy New Year to all those losers who will not get healthcare insurance, thanks to his clever reading of the Constitution. There are 4.8 million of these losers, and 2.6 million of them are people of color, black and Hispanic mainly. Not that the Chief Justice and his right-wing colleagues on the Supreme Court would make racist distinctions. No, no, no. They assure us their decision is solely driven by a matter of high constitutional principle—states’ rights.

The problem with these people is that they are low-income adults without dependent children—not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid nor old enough to qualify for Medicare. President Obama’s original legislation took care of them by expanding Medicaid coverage and putting up the federal money to pay for it. The Roberts decision insisted that state governments have a constitutional right to reject this financial aid from Washington. And twenty-five states took him up on the offer.

This odd failure will probably be blamed on Obama but should rightly be called the “Supreme Court gap” in unversal healthcare coverage. Because these folks do not not quite earn enough to qualify for Obamacare’s tax credits to help people purchase health insurance. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation outlined the consequences: “Most of these individuals have very limited coverage options and are likely to remain uninsured.”

Of course, they could get a job that pays more. Or maybe get married and have children that would qualify them for Medicaid. State governments set many of the rules for Medicaid coverage and some conservatives think fedeal aid saps individual initiative and rewards indolence. It is not entirely a coincidence that many of these rejectionist states are the same states that defied the Supreme Court half a century ago and resisted racial integration and equal rights for minorities. Some of them are the very states that went to war to defend slavery. Republicans are sometimes called a “neo-Confederate party.” After the Supreme Court gutted the voting-rights act, the neo-Confederates were free to pass restrictive laws designed to shrink minority voting, and so they did.

The Kaiser Foundation doesn’t get into any of that but simply observed, “These continued coverage gaps will likely lead to widening racial and ethnic as well as geographic disparities in coverage and access.”

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Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Program circulated the Kaiser report with this comment: “What a terrible way to start the first of the year of what is essentially the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. It seems pretty obvious what our New Year’s resolution should be. Let’s bring health care to everyone through an improved and expanded Medicare for all.”

Democrats ought to call out Republicans on these questions. And citizens generally ought to call out the Roberts Court. The Supremes have done quite a lot in the last fifteen years to mess up our already weakened democratic system. They stole the presidential election in 2000. They cut loose Big Money to swamp elections by destroying lawful restraints. They are trying step-by-step to restore hoary old legalisms that favor capital over labor, corporations over individuals. Shouldn’t we be talking about how to stop them?

Read Next: William Greider on how to resuscitate the fight for single-payer healthcare

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