Local News

Will politics of health care overhaul overshadow legal debate?

Posted March 26, 2012 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated March 26, 2012 6:26 p.m. EDT

— Some area residents said Monday that they fear the partisan divide over the national health care reform law will overwhelm the debate before the U.S. Supreme Court over its legality.

As 26 states challenge the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the White House is highlighting the 2-year-old law's benefits. In North Carolina, for example, the law has allowed about 75,000 adults between the ages of 23 and 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies and has provided discounted prescription drugs to more than 100,000 Medicare recipients.

The law doesn't take full effect until 2014, when the so-called individual mandate kicks in. Under that provision, everyone must have health coverage by then or face a financial penalty.

Critics say the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but Gene Nichol, Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the Republican-dominated Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, should uphold the law on legal grounds.

"There's nothing in the law of the Constitution, as it's presently pronounced or has been pronounced in the last 50 years, which makes this bill, particularly the mandate, unconstitutional," said Nichol, who participated in a panel discussion at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh about the law.

Still, he said, politics will likely play a role in the court's ruling, which isn't expected until June.

"It has played into the Roberts court decision-making process more aggressively with each year, so it's not sensible to think it won't play a role in this," he said.

Rob Lockwood, a spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party, said he thinks the Supreme Court will leave politics out of it.

"I think the justices understand that this has to be a strictly legal ruling, that there cannot be any sway of politics, and I think they'll do a good job with that," Lockwood said.

Glenn and Peggy Eason, who attended the forum, said they support the reform law because the health care system needs to be fixed. They aren't as confident as Lockwood that the justices will weigh the case strictly on its legal merits.

"I think it is very much about politics. That's too bad," Glenn Eason said.

Thirteenth District Congressman Brad Miller said during the forum that health care reform could help motivate Democratic voters in the November election, but it will be just one issue among many in races.

Lockwood said candidates will address how to contain rising health care costs, regardless of what the court decides.

"As long as costs keep going up, it'll continue to be an issue," he said. "Consumers are looking for any way to reduce the costs, whether it be, like I said, free market on our side or more government involvement (on) their side," he said.