The 2,000-page law, however, covers a vast array of other health-care issues, touching almost every part of the health-care industry in the United States.
For that reason, if the ruling were to take effect, it could create major disruptions across the U.S. health-care system — affecting which drugs patients can buy, preventive services for older Americans, the expansion of Medicaid in most states and the structure of the Indian Health Service.
“There’s really no American that’s not affected by this law,” said Yale law professor Abbe Gluck, who filed an amicus brief with other lawyers in the Texas case.
The judge’s ruling, she said, flouts settled legal doctrine and places key acts of Congress in reverse order.
By ignoring that Congress specifically declined to strike down the ACA in 2017 when it chose to alter only one portion of the bill, she said, the judge decreed that the 2010 Congress, which first passed the law, has more authority than the same legislative body in 2017.
But because of this activist Republican judge, the country will be unsettled until his ruling gets studied by the next level of judicial review. Crazy. And who is supporting the ACA in court? Certainly not Trump’s Justice Department, they want the bill to be overturned as well.
The Justice Department, which had been defending the law in court for years, announced in June that it would no longer argue for the mandate, and, as a result, the Trump administration said, a separate requirement that insurance companies cannot reject people who have preexisting conditions was also invalid.
Many of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the great bulk of the bill — and would create jobs in the process — are also among America’s poorest.
Or consider how some states, like Kansas and Oklahoma — both of which were relatively affluent in the 1970s, but have now fallen far behind — have gone in for radical tax cuts, and ended up savaging their education systems. External forces have put them in a hole, but they’re digging it deeper.
And when it comes to national politics, let’s face it: Trumpland is in effect voting for its own impoverishment. New Deal programs and public investment played a significant role in the great postwar convergence; conservative efforts to downsize government will hurt people all across America, but it will disproportionately hurt the very regions that put the G.O.P. in power.
Not a brand new phenomena, but relatively new. I call it the Fox News effect: the conservative red states who have been bamboozled to reflexively refuse the exact government help that would assist them in their lives because their spiritual/cultural leaders yelling at them on the tee-vee have convinced them that tax cuts and a smaller government is panacea, plus it will “trigger the liberals”. Yeah, those liberals, always trying to help, what’s wrong with them?
So Kansas1 and Oklahoma have cut taxes so much that teachers are having to strike for living wages. In my ideal world, teachers would be paid as much as least as much as investment bankers. Teachers should at least get a living wage, preferably more so that the “best and brightest” choose the teaching profession. Good teachers are important to our civil society, essential even, why should they get sub-poverty wages just so the Koch Brothers can pay slightly less in taxes?
South River Public School
The Guardian reports:
While Oklahoma has the country’s lowest tax on oil and natural gas production, teachers’ salaries remain stubbornly low, at 49th in the nation. According to data provided by the National Education Association (NEA), teachers make $45,276, nearly $13,077 below the nationwide average of $58,353 and well below the nationwide high of New York at $79,152.
“Over a decade of neglect by the legislature has given our students broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, four-day school weeks, classes that have exploded in size and teachers who have been forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs and go to food pantries to provide for their families,” said the Oklahoma Education Association in a statement. “We are saying enough. No more empty promises. The governor and legislature need to act now to fix this.”
It’s a feeling shared by teachers in places like Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states, who are all also considering action.
The strikes are unique in that they are not being called for by the leadership of the unions, but often through direct appeals of rank-and-file members using social media and their own personal networks to organize across entire states and now the country.
Not to mention the whole conservative pushback to the Affordable Care Act:
A new wave of teacher strikes has highlighted a growing problem for all US workers – growing health costs which have become a “hungry tapeworm” on Americans’ wages.
In the most expensive health system in the world and the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare, more than 177 million Americans get health insurance through an employer. But insurance is rarely free.
“They’ve shifted the healthcare costs and the pension costs on to employees, so employees are making less and they’re spending less,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million members. “It’s a double whammy.”
Conservative legislatures’ push to shift health and pension costs on to individual teachers means in some states, teachers take home less pay than they did five years ago.
That may seem like an argument for resisting the urge to fall in love with a company. After all, companies don’t really love their customers. They love profits. And they see gaining customers’ affection as a good way to make profits. They will let that affection wilt if it stops being an effective tool for making money.
Jon Stewart is starting to get bored not being on the teevee, methinks
That’s when Stewart got down to business by bringing da Trump with a thick New York accent, wagging shoulders and wild gesticulations we’ve come to love about his classic impressions. “These 9/11 first responders, let me tell ya’ something, hey, these 9/11 first responders are the most top-notch, first-class, diamond-encrusted heroes America can produce,” Stewart said. “Don’t let Congress play politics with this necessary bill. If I’m elected, and I will be elected, I will build a wall around politics and I will make politics pay for it. Tweet at your Congressman #WorstResponders. Tell them Donald said ‘pull up your big boy pants and make America Great again. Pass the Zadroga Act, or I will glue Congress together, dip them in gold and wear them around my freggin’ neck!”
Stewart is hoping with enough public pressure on Congress they will add the Zadroga Act to the upcoming omnibus bill that has so many riders it’s not as if anyone would notice.
Like a food court maybe? Seriously, how long before Scalia says something so vile that impeachment talk begins to rumble in Congress? Within the year?
A new study conducted by legal scholars indicates that Justice Antonin Scalia would fare better if he served as a judge at a court that was “less advanced” than the United States Supreme Court.
According to the study, Scalia’s struggles to perform his duties in a competent fashion stem from his being inappropriately placed on a court that is “too demanding” for a person of his limited abilities.
“Forcing Justice Scalia to weigh in on complex legal issues that he lacks the background or aptitude to comprehend is, at the end of the day, cruel,” the study said.
Icelanders opposed to the state funding of religion have flocked to register as Zuists, a movement that worships ancient Sumerian gods and – perhaps more importantly – promises its followers a tax rebate.
More than 3,100 people – almost 1% of Iceland’s population – have joined the Zuist movement in the past two weeks in protest at paying part of their taxes to the state church and other religious bodies. Followers of Zuism will be refunded the tax element earmarked for religion.
Icelanders are required to register their religion with the state, with almost three-quarters of the population affiliated to the established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. There are more than 40 other registered religious bodies that qualify for “parish fees” paid through the taxation system. The amount set in next year’s budget is the equivalent of about $80 (£53) per taxpayer over a year.
“There is no opt-out. Those who are unaffiliated or belong to unregistered religions effectively just pay higher taxes,” said Sveinn Thorhallsson, a Zuist spokesperson. An opinion poll published in September showed 55% of respondents want an end to the system.
Our premiums have jumped, our insurance broker says it is most certainly due to this change: Feds promised money to insurance companies, then reneged…
Nine days later, the New York Times’s Robert Pear broke some news to readers. “A little-noticed health care provision that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida slipped into a giant spending law last year has tangled up the Obama administration,” he wrote. “Mr. Rubio’s efforts against the so-called risk corridor provision of the health law has hardly risen to the forefront of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but his plan limiting how much the government can spend to protect insurance companies against financial losses has shown the effectiveness of quiet legislative sabotage.”
A paradox emerges. A “quiet” sabotage would seem to be one the saboteurs do not discuss. Rubio, by contrast, went after risk corridors with all the subtlety of Auric Goldfinger talking to a captured James Bond. Two years ago, when Democrats controlled the Senate, Rubio introduced a stand-alone bill, the “ObamaCare Bailout Prevention Act,” to end risk corridors altogether. Rubio’s talking points have hardly changed since then; letting HHS make up the difference in cost for insurers amounted to “Washington picking winners and losers.” When the CRomnibus passed, health care wonks rang alarm bells about the risk corridor amendment.
Rubio is responsible for the premium hikes, basically
What he calls a bailout is the idea of risk corridors. That was a cushion created, paid into by health insurance companies, to help out companies who took on a disproportionate number of sicker, more expensive Obamacare patients. In the early going, companies couldn’t predict what their customer mix was going to be to help them set premium levels. For those who ended up paying out more in coverage than premiums brought in, the risk corridor gave them a safety net of funds to draw on. At the same time, the companies who paid out less than predicted and had higher profits paid into the fund.
But in the first year, “claims to obtain money from the program equaled $2.9 billion, while insurers’ payments into the system came to $362 million.” Health and Human Services would have transferred departmental funding—taxpayer money—to the fund to cover the shortfall, but Rubio blocked them from doing so. The result has been that a bunch of smaller insurers have had to drop out of the exchanges, and a dozen or so health insurance cooperatives that started up under the law have folded. Because they’re the ones who couldn’t recoup losses.
A new round of testing by The Associated Press shows the city’s Olympic waterways are as rife with pathogens far offshore as they are nearer land, where raw sewage flows into them from fetid rivers and storm drains. That means there is no dilution factor in the bay or lagoon where events will take place and no less risk to the health of athletes like sailors competing farther from the shore.
“Those virus levels are widespread. It’s not just along the shoreline but it’s elsewhere in the water, therefore it’s going to increase the exposure of the people who come into contact with those waters,” said Kristina Mena, an expert in waterborne viruses and an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “We’re talking about an extreme environment, where the pollution is so high that exposure is imminent and the chance of infection very likely.”
Now, the AP’s most recent tests since August show not only no improvement in water quality — but that the water is even more widely contaminated than previously known. The number of viruses found over a kilometer from the shore in Guanabara Bay, where sailors compete at high speeds and get utterly drenched, are equal to those found along shorelines closer to sewage sources.
“The levels of viruses are so high in these Brazilian waters that if we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches,” Mena said.
Republican party officials are now actively preparing for the prospect of a contested convention in Cleveland as front-runner Donald Trump continues to draw strong support from the GOP base. The scenario was discussed by more than 20 party stalwarts Monday at a Washington, DC, dinner held by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, the Washington Post reported. A person familiar with who attended the dinner confirmed to Bloomberg that it took place, and that Priebus, members of congress, establishment lobbyists and others have held similar discussions for weeks. Should Trump continue to dominate the nomination race in the coming months and amass the required number of delegates to become the official Republican nominee, members of the establishment told the Post they would be forced to contest his nomination on the convention floor in Cleveland from July 18–21.
In no particular order, Texas senator and Republican presidential aspirant Ted Cruz has: said acts of Christian terrorism stopped centuries ago, forgetting the Ku Klux Klan and the shooting in Colorado last week; claimed he has never met an anti-abortion activist who advocates violence, despite being endorsed by one just days before; dismissed the need for Planned Parenthood because there isn’t a shortage of “rubbers” in America; and made an offhand comment that Colorado mass shooter Robert Dear could be a “transgendered leftist activist.” All this in just the last week.
Ted Cruz is far from crazy, which is the essential Ted Cruz problem. Crazy you can deal with, even forgive a little, often ignore. Ben Carson is a bowl of Froot Loops floating in a sad lethal pond of gasoline. Donald Trump went warp speed into the Trumpiverse decades ago. Both men have conducted their campaigns and recent years on perpetual tangents. But Ted Cruz knows exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t even hide it particularly well. Not only is his intelligence one of his favorite selling points, his book undermines any notion that he misspeaks. He is gaffe proof because the gaffes are not arrived at by error. Ted Cruz does awful things by intelligent design.
I’m sort of interested in watching The Man in The High Castle, even though it is one of my favorite PKD books, especially since fascist ideology seems to be on the rise
They basically stole Phil Dick’s pitch — and then deployed it in their own inimitable style. I find the show fairly compelling to watch. But I also find myself saying, “I don’t know that this is what Dick was getting at.”
It seems much morally simpler, less ambiguous. There were some suggestions in [the novel] that America and Nazi Germany were not all that different — that’s not a particularly P.C. idea, but it is important. While the Germans were extinguishing Jews, we were excluding black people from the lunch counter. It was a matter of degrees.
We had [racial] superiority here … The Nazi fantasy of the blond, blue-eyed book and how it overlapped with California dreamin’ … The idea of the blond, perfect teeth, riding on the wave like some übermensch. It’s not without its resonance, and to leave all those out and make it a simple good vs. evil — that’s a travesty. A betrayal of Dick’s intention. But probably works better on TV.
Oh, Kansas, you so crazy – you elected this clown twice!
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is calling all hands on deck to fix his state’s huge self-imposed budget crisis, which nearly cost him re-election this year, and the staunch conservative is now receiving an assist from an unlikely source: Obamacare.
The state’s well-documented budget troubles came after Brownback’s dramatic reductions in taxes since taking office in 2011. With its revenue drying up and cash reserves depleted, Kansas is staring at a $280 million hole in its $6.4 billion FY 2015 budget, which ends in June.
Brownback offered his proposal for closing that hole last week, a mixture of spending cuts and transferring funds from other parts of the budget to fill it. And second biggest of those transfers is $55 million in revenue from a Medicaid drug rebate program that was bolstered under the Affordable Care Act.
The short version then is this: Obamacare is helping Kansas address its fiscal crisis — even if Brownback’s administration seems loath to admit it.
No worries, Kansas will turn into Somalia soon enough, Governor Brownback has 4 more years of wrecking the state’s economy to prove Republican talking points about economics are faith-based. As long as you don’t live in Kansas, or near Kansas, or have any dealings with Kansas, or live in the same country as Kansas, you should be ok…
Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.
But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.
There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.
Why, after all, should anyone believe at this late date in supply-side economics, which claims that tax cuts boost the economy so much that they largely if not entirely pay for themselves? The doctrine crashed and burned two decades ago, when just about everyone on the right — after claiming, speciously, that the economy’s performance under Ronald Reagan validated their doctrine — went on to predict that Bill Clinton’s tax hike on the wealthy would cause a recession if not an outright depression. What actually happened was a spectacular economic expansion.
and as long as the morons in Washington don’t follow Brownback’s lead:
Remember, as far as Brownback is concerned, he has a popular mandate from the Kansas electorate. He ruined the state’s finances, won a second term, and sees no need to change course. So, predictably, he’s keeping the tax breaks that didn’t work and slashing public investments even deeper, since this is entirely consistent with the agenda endorsed by voters.
Shortly after the election, Brownback’s budget director said the administration “has no intention of revisiting the state’s tax policy.” Of course not. Why would failure need to be revisited?
Postscript: Two years ago, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of Brownback’s radical economic experiment, “This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington.” Something to keep in mind.
Senator Al Franken won re-election with a novel strategy; he campaigned as he votes: as a Liberal! And won! Sadly, too many of his party tried to win by playing up their conservative side for some reason, and then lost. Seriously, what is the point of presenting oneself as Republican-Lite? Won’t voters just vote for the actual Republican?
Luckily for the Wellstone wing of the Democratic Party, there are a few smart guys, like Senator Franken:
Across the country, other Democratic Senate candidates distanced themselves from President Obama and the Democratic Party platform. Mark Warner, who squeaked by in Virginia, preferred to talk about how he’d tweak the Affordable Care Act than his vote for the bill, while arguing that he hasn’t actually voted with President Obama all that often. Mark Udall in Colorado decided he didn’t want to be seen with Obama. Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky wouldn’t even say if she voted for Obama in 2012—after serving as one of his delegates to the national convention.
Franken took the opposite approach.
Instead of running away from the progressive accomplishments of the Obama era, he embraced them, railing against bankers, advocating for student loan reform—even defending the Affordable Care Act. Franken ran as an Elizabeth Warren-style Democrat, running a populist campaign that didn’t shirk discussion of the specific policies Democrats could pursue to help the middle class. And voters rewarded him. “This wasn’t a safe seat,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an e-mail. “He earned his victory by being a proud populist Democrat for six years and inspiring voters.”
Franken’s Republican opponent, investment banker Mike McFadden, centered his campaign on painting Franken as an Obama shill. But Franken didn’t deny his ties to the president and the Democratic party—and he would have had a hard time of it if he tried. Franken was a favorite of the liberal base before entering politics thanks to his combative, unabashed left-winger radio persona on Air America and his anti-Fox News books. He joined Congress in 2009 as the Democrats’ 60th, filibuster-breaking vote, allowing the party to pass the Affordable Care Act. Since then he’s racked up a clear lefty record, regularly ranking among the most liberal members in the Senate.
While record numbers of Americans sign up for the larger Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, financial issues are emerging for medical care providers in the two dozen states that didn’t go along with the expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Reports out in the last week indicate the gap between those with health care coverage is widening between states that agreed to go along with the health law’s Medicaid expansion and those generally led by Republican legislatures and GOP governors that are balking at the expansion.
The moves against expansion are “beginning to hurt hospitals in states that opted out,” a report last week from Fitch Ratings said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services has said Medicaid enrollment in the 26 states and the District of Columbia that agreed to go along with and implemented the expansion by the end of May “rose by 17 percent, while states that have not expanded reported only a 3 percent increase,” HHS said in an enrollment update for the Medicaid program.
“We expect providers in states that have chosen not to participate in expanded Medicaid eligibility to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond,” Fitch said in its July 16 report. “Nonprofit hospitals and healthcare systems in states that have expanded their Medicaid coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have begun to realize the benefit from increased insurance coverage.”
What consistently boggles my mind is that the poor, uninsured people in Republican-leaning states still vote for Republicans. Self-hating folk presumedly. Or else the Tea-Bagger propaganda is so powerful, it has convinced them to vote against their own interests.
This would make me weep, if I wasn’t laughing so hard…
The hottest competition in Washington this week is among House Republicans vying for a seat on the Benghazi kangaroo court, also known as the Select House Committee to Inflate a Tragedy Into a Scandal. Half the House has asked to “serve” on the committee, which is understandable since it’s the perfect opportunity to avoid any real work while waving frantically to right-wing voters stomping their feet in the grandstand.
They won’t pass a serious jobs bill, or raise the minimum wage, or reform immigration, but House Republicans think they can earn their pay for the rest of the year by exposing nonexistent malfeasance on the part of the Obama administration. On Thursday, they voted to create a committee to spend “such sums as may be necessary” to conduct an investigation of the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The day before, they voted to hold in contempt Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service official whom they would love to blame for the administration’s crackdown on conservative groups, if only they could prove there was a crackdown, which they can’t, because there wasn’t.
Both actions stem from the same impulse: a need to rouse the most fervent anti-Obama wing of the party and keep it angry enough to deliver its donations and votes to Republicans in the November elections.
The rebranding of the Republican Party is complete, mandating the wearing of clown shoes at all times…
Similarly, the Justice Department should not press Ms. Lerner’s contempt citation before a grand jury. She invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at a hearing last year and refused to testify, but Republicans claim, without foundation, that she waived those rights by first proclaiming her innocence. Her refusal, they said, was contemptuous of Congress. Little nuisances like constitutional rights or basic facts can’t be allowed to stand in the way when House Republicans need to whip up their party’s fury.
Statisticians dismiss the practice of using personal stories to argue about an objective reality as “anecdata”, but it might be more accurate to call the “Obamacare horror stories” that have taken over social media “urban legends”. There are urban legends about a lot of things – from spiders in hairdos to red velvet cake. Some are funny, some feature a satisfying come-uppance, but folklorists agree that the stickiest of them, the ones that last for generations and resist debunking are the ones that live off ignorance and feed off fear. As one researcher put it: It’s a lack of information coupled with these fears that tends to give rise to new legends. When demand exceeds supply, people will fill in the gaps with their own information … they’ll just make it up.
I can’t think of a better description of the conservative media ecosystem at the moment.
The failure of the exchanges created an information vacuum as far as Obamacare successes went; in rushed the individual stories of those who claimed to have been hurt by the changes to the market. It didn’t matter that these stories are, even without enrollment numbers from the exchanges, demonstrably unrepresentative! Only a fraction of Americans, 5%, even have the kind of policies that could have been cancelled – these were the people who could claim to have been “lied to”… or worse. Their stories became part of an Obamacare horror story canon.
Turns out in nearly every case, the reported facts were erroneous, or there were significant details left out. I’m sure you are as surprised as I am that there is gambling in this casino…1
and the really scary part of this story is how quickly these fake stories spread, even on the so-called corporate media. For instance, CBS, Yahoo, and Mediate all reported on Ashley Dionne’s complaint without fact-checking it.
There is the one about Ashley Dionne, who claimed that Obamacare “raped” her generation:
I have asthma, ulcers, and mild cerebral palsy. Obamacare takes my monthly rate from $75 a month for full coverage on my “Young Adult Plan” to $319 a month. After $6,000 in deductibles, of course.
It turned out that her own Tumblr post contained evidence that she would be eligible for a low-cost, “silver” plan for $22.17 per month, with out-of-pocket spending capped at $2,250. (Also, with her medical conditions, it’s hard to believe that she ever found a company to cover her pre-ACA.)
The Supreme Court inexplicably ruled recently that corporations are people when it comes to spending political money; now this same court is going to rule whether for-profit corporations have religious rights as well. Rights that then would trickle down to the employees, squashing the employee’s rights. If this law passes, the religious affiliation of businesses will have to become a factor for workers deciding where to work. Will the corporation have to disclose the religious affiliations of each and every shareholder? Just the C.E.O. and President? The Board of Directors? Who controls the “Corporate Personhood”? How does Hobby Lobby take communion wafers and confession? Does Hobby Wine only drink grape juice like some Protestants?
Buzzfeed needs to make a listicle: 23 Odd Religious Practices Your Boss Might Insist Upon. I can imagine some of them now, like what if your boss was a Rastafarian, and insisted you treat cannabis as a sacrament each and every day? A Christian Scientist? You couldn’t go to the doctor at all, only pray for God to intervene. Orthodox Jewish boss? Better keep kosher, including paying attention to Shatnez– meaning you cannot mix wool and other fibers in the same clothing. If you worked for Staples when Mitt Romney owned it, would you have to wear the magic underwear? And be forbidden from drinking coffee? How about if your company’s board has members of Digambara Jain? Would you have to be nude all the time after you reached a certain age? If you worked for a Jehovah’s Witness like Prince, could your boss prohibit you from getting a blood transfusion? A Scientologist boss would prohibit you from Prozac and other psychiatric drugs and treatment. A Quaker corporation might not want its taxes to go to support building of war machines, would that be ok for the Court? What about wearing ornaments? God has railed against the wearing of ornaments in Exodus 33.
These are jokes, almost, but depending upon how the Supreme Court rules, the joke might turn to ashes in our mouths. I know the prospect scares me, and I’m self-employed. I really don’t want to live in the Christian Theocracy these zealots are trying to create…
God Is Ugly
Some coverage regarding this scary, scary issue that I read today, including this overview from Adam Liptak, New York Times:
In June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver, ruled for Hobby Lobby (PDF), a corporation owned by a family whose members have said they try to run the business on Christian principles. The company, which operates a chain of arts-and-crafts stores and has more than 15,000 full-time employees of many faiths, objected to a requirement in the health care law that large employers provide their workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception.
Hobby Lobby told the justices that it had no problem with offering coverage for many forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. But drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are another matter, and make it complicit in a form of abortion, the company said.
The law presents companies with difficult choices, Hobby Lobby told the justices. Failing to offer comprehensive coverage could subject it to fines of $1.3 million a day, it said, while dropping insurance coverage for its employees entirely could lead to fines of $26 million a year.
The Tenth Circuit ruled that Hobby Lobby was a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and that its religious beliefs had been compromised without good reason.
Kyle Duncan, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby, said he was pleased that the justices had agreed to resolve the split among the federal appeals courts. “We hope the Supreme Court will vindicate the rights of family business owners,” he said.
Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that “the right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions.”
“These for-profit companies,” she said, “are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”
In July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation (PDF), which makes wood cabinets and is owned by a Mennonite family that had similar objections to the law. The Third Circuit concluded that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.”
David Cortman, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the company and its owners, said the ruling was misguided. “The administration has no business forcing citizens to make a choice between making a living and living free,” he said.
The Third Circuit rejected an analogy to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, which ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech. Though the First Amendment also protects the free exercise of religion, Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote for the majority of a divided three-judge panel, “it does not automatically follow that all clauses of the First Amendment must be interpreted identically.”
But a five-judge majority of an eight-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit, in the Hobby Lobby case, said that “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United” extended to religious freedom.
“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority.
Amelia Thomson-Deveaux notes that neither of these businesses are even Catholic, so why would they object to contraception?
Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.
Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.
When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.
It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.
Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)
Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?
There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”
“The corporations that brought these cases have views that are far outside the mainstream, and the outcome of these cases could have extreme consequences for millions of Americans,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in response to the news. “For the first time ever, the court could decide that corporations have the right to opt out of a legal requirement — based entirely on the personal beliefs of their owners.”
“The right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These for-profit companies are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”
But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, suggested it believes that the Supreme Court will rule to protect the so-called religious expression of for-profit corporations, citing the 2010 Citizens United decision as an example of the court defining corporate personhood. “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” the court wrote.
The president of Hobby Lobby is a member of the Christian Taliban if there ever was one:
Among his more controversial beliefs: Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character simply by staring into their eyes, that disease has spiritual causes and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books provide detailed instructions on how women ought to stand, in addition to diagrams of the appropriate length of men’s pants and illustrations of suitable female hairstyles.
In 2002, Green, acting through his family trust, purchased and then leased a vacant college campus to Gothard’s ministry. A year later, Green, this time acting through Hobby Lobby itself, purchased a shuttered hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and donated it to Gothard for the purposes of building a local training center.
These weren’t mere business transactions, either. The website of one of Gothard’s many ministries features video of Steve Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others.” And in a review of Gothard’s book, The Amazing Way, David Green, father of Steve Green and founder of Hobby Lobby, wrote that, “Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business. It is as we take those lessons from God s Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends.”
Objective courses about the Bible are permissible in public schools, but Sunday School lessons are a different matter entirely. Green’s past statements and Religious Right connections indicate that he’s actually trying to promote a specific perspective on the Bible: his own.
I know I’m never setting foot in a Hobby Lobby again:
Hobby Lobby, the giant craft retailer known for providing knitting wool, holiday trinkets, fake flowers, and just about any other craft-centric material one could need, balks at providing certain types of medical care for its employees. That is because the company, which has 559 stores across the country and brings in $3 billion in revenue each year, is owned by the Green family—devout Christians who believe that human life begins at conception and that using certain types of birth control violates their religious beliefs.
The Greens, who often have Hobby Lobby buy newspaper ads encouraging people to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” also think that their religious beliefs should be imposed on Hobby Lobby’s 22,000 employees. Because of their religious convictions, the Greens have asked a federal court, in a case called Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, to exempt their for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer health plans covering contraception.
In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that minimum standards for employer health plans would include preventive care for women, including mammograms, cervical-cancer screenings, prenatal care, and contraceptives—all services that are vital to women’s health and well-being. The Obama administration provided an exemption from the contraception-coverage requirement for “religious employers”—churches and nonprofit religious organizations—but not for for-profit, secular corporations such as Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius is one of 40 lawsuits filed across the country asking federal courts to exempt a for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement. It is also one part of a coordinated effort led by conservative legal groups to undermine the Affordable Care Act and avoid complying with other laws.
So if a for-profit corporation is religious, is it based on its board members? Share holders? Founders? Who gets to decide what religion a company is?
Even if one assumes that the mandate represents a “substantial burden,” another problem with the argument being made against the mandate is that the free exercise of religion is an inherently individual act. As Sarah Posner argued, the idea that a secular, for-profit corporation can “exercise” religion is a strange concept that would be inconsistent with a substantial body of precedent. Some have argued that the Court’s Citizens United decision should be seen as changing the legal context, the issues involved are very different. Corporations must have some free speech rights because the dissemination of speech often involves corporate entities—Congress cannot ban the showing of Masters of Sex just because it’s distributed by Viacom. Religious exercise, conversely, is inherently personal. Some shareholders in the Hobby Lobby may have religious beliefs that contradict the religious mandate, but the corporation itself cannot.
What about closely held corporations?
One potential argument, recently made by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is that a corporation itself cannot exercise religion, but a corporation’s owners can. Since one argument made by Conestoga Wood is that the religious rights of the company’s owners have been violated even if those of the company cannot be, the case is presumably a vehicle for the Court to examine this legal question as well. In my judgement, this argument is no more convincing than Hobby Lobby’s. The owner of a business cannot obtain the advantages of a corporate form (including substantial insulation from personal liability) while remaining an individual when it is advantageous to do so. Nonetheless, it would not be surprising for the Supreme Court to split the baby by rejecting the Hobbby Lobby’s claim while accepting the ones raised by the owners of Conestoga.
On its face, it seems odd to even consider the question seriously. After all, no one is forcing the owners of the company to take contraception or purchase contraception. The belief in question – that certain types of contraception are “abortifacients” – is also far from scientific fact. Also, the company owners issue their employees a pay check and have no say over how the employees spend it; they have no say over the activities their employees participate in on a vacation day.
It’s certainly not violating the company’s religious freedom for an employee to use the money paid to them by the company for a whole series of things that the company owner may find religiously objectionable, including buying contraception. It’s certainly not violating the company’s religious freedom for an employee to use a company-issued vacation day to enjoy a whole series of things that the company owner may find religiously objectionable, including, say, a full-day contracepted sex-fest, a trip to Mecca or a pork barbecue.
So why is it a problem for employees to use their health insurance for the care they and their doctors agree upon?
The cases the supreme court will hear were brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is justified by a “compelling reason”. Free religious exercise is burdened when the government forces an individual to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs, but not every infringement on religious beliefs is a substantial burden. As the ACLU points out in their amicus brief to the supreme court, the contraception law doesn’t force the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store to violate their own religious beliefs. It requires them to cover health insurance, which may subsidize someone else’s activities that violate the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious values – but again, the same could be said for issuing a pay check.
By refusing to cover contraception, the Hobby Lobby owners (and the owners of the other companies claiming the healthcare law infringes upon their religious freedom) are in fact using their own religious beliefs to deny benefits to their employees who may not share those beliefs at all. That’s not religious freedom; it’s religious tyranny.
The company heads bringing these claims want to have it both ways. By incorporating, owners and shareholders create separate entities and are not personally liable for their employees’ salaries or health insurance costs – the entire point of incorporating is to create a legal entity separate from the individuals who created it. Yet these owners and shareholders want the court to consider their personal religious beliefs indistinguishable from those of the corporation, and allow those beliefs to dictate the kind of healthcare coverage their employees receive.
In addition to offering her “down and dirty” advice for retirees, Somers has strong views on socialism:
And then there is another consideration: It’s the dark underbelly of the Affordable Care Act reminiscent of what Lenin and Churchill both said. Lenin: “Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.” Churchill: “Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens.”
Unsurprisingly, Lenin never said that line — it’s a decades-old right-wing fabrication. The more curious line is the Churchill quote. It’s almost certainly fake, too; it does not appear in the LexisNexis database or in Google. Unless Somers has done original archival work on Churchill, she seems to have fabricated that quote on her own, or possibly received it via chain e-mail.
But the more interesting question is what does Somers think it means? Does she believe Churchill was warning the world of the dangers of a national health-care system? If so, that’s weird, because he strongly favored such a system. Given the latter, is she holding up Churchill as another European despot who, like Lenin, sought to impose universal health care on his citizens? Somers’s side-by-side listing of Churchill with Lenin, along with Churchill’s actual support for nationalized health care, makes the latter more plausible.
Her argument bounces around a bit, but centers on three things. First: Canadian health care doesn’t work and Canadian doctors want to come to the United States because “they want to reap financial rewards.” Second: Pre-existing condition coverage is good for seniors, but nothing else is. And, third: Lenin and Churchill saw health care as a tool to control the public.
The Canadian stuff is based mostly on an anecdote. That her sister-in-law had to wait to see a doctor is sad! But an old Maclean’s article isn’t terribly compelling, nor would be the idea that Canadian doctors want to come to America to make money. That’s the whole point! Doctors here have far fewer limitations on their ability to make money, which is one factor in increasing health care costs. If you were told you could make way more money doing the same thing somewhere else, you might move, too. That doesn’t mean you’re doing bad work where you are. Regardless, Somers’ claim is not true.
As for the elderly, Somers is very concerned about their health coverage, though in generally vague ways. She acknowledges the value of covering preexisting conditions, but then segues into “let’s get down and dirty; the word ‘affordable’ is a misnomer.” Why? Because premiums are “doubling and tripling” as you “hear on the news” and “most frightening of all, your most intimate and personal information is now up for grabs.” In this case, “the news” probably means Hannity, and “personal information” means … no idea. No idea what that means. She of course misses the whole point about pre-existing conditions: yes, premiums for some people with pre-existing conditions will go up — since many pay no premiums, since they can’t get coverage. And that’s good for kids with cancer just as it is for the elderly.
update: apparently, Mr. Murdoch’s fact checker army had been furloughed, but are now back in the office. The WSJ appended this to the bottom of the story later on today:
CORRECTIONS AND AMPLIFICATIONS:
An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens“) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.
Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse.
Personally, Eden Foods’ political stance gives Eden Organic beans a musty, old fashioned flavor, a flavor of the 15th century, a time when the Catholic Church decided for you what was legal or illegal, accepted or unaccepted.
The slogan for Eden Foods, which describes itself as the “oldest natural and organic food company in North America,” is “creation and maintenance of purity in food.” Its CEO and founder, Michael Potter, has been prominent in debates over labeling of organic food and GMOs. But the company has been quietly seeking in court another form of purity — to Catholic doctrine about sex being solely for procreation. That goes not just for Potter, but for all 128 of his employees.
That is, Eden Foods — an organic food company with no shortage of liberal customers — has quietly pursued a decidedly right-wing agenda, suing the Obama administration for exemption from the mandate to cover contraception for its employees under the Affordable Care Act. In court filings, Eden Foods, represented by the conservative Thomas More Law Center, alleges that its rights have been violated under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Eden Foods, which did not respond to a request for comment, says in its filing that the company believes of birth control that “these procedures almost always involve immoral and unnatural practices.” The complaint also says that “Plaintiffs believe that Plan B and ‘ella’ can cause the death of the embryo, which is a person.” (Studies show that neither Plan B nor Ella interfere with fertilization, which is the Catholic definition of the beginning of life, if not the medical one. In other words, not the death of an embryo. Also, at that stage, it’s a zygote, not an embryo — let alone a “person.”)
But once Potter became aware that the company’s plan had begun to cover contraception in accordance with the Obamacare regulations, he teamed up with Thomas More Law Center to sue. The Center focuses on violations of “religious freedom,” including in connection with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. They also represented Pastor Terry Jones, who became famous for his plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11.
They filed suit on March 20, 2013, against Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and other government parties, demanding an exemption, despite the fact that Eden Foods is a for-profit company. Two days later, District Court Judge Denise Page Hood denied an emergency motion to be exempted, writing, “Courts have held that the Mandate in question applies only to the corporate entity, not to its officers or owners, and that as to the individual owners, any burden imposed on them individually by the contraception mandate is remote[.]” She added, “The purpose of the Women’s Preventive Healthcare Regulations is not to target religion, but instead to promote public health and gender equality.” A hearing has been set for May 10.
Eden Foods: Another company that deserves to lose in the marketplace. I’ll no longer purchase any product of theirs, that’s for damn sure, and I don’t even have a uterus, pure or not.
Katie Baker of Jezebel adds:
Eden Foods, an independently owned natural food company, is just as interested in the “Creation and Maintenance of Purity in Food®” as the maintenance of purity in your uterus: the company is suing the Obama administration for exemption from the contraceptive mandate. Owner Michael Potter believes sex is for baby-making alone, and hopes to force his 128 employees to follow suit.
In court filings, the plaintiffs (Eden Foods and Potter) lay out the reasons why Potter’s personal and nonsensical beliefs regarding birth control and emergency contraception — which Eden Foods has historically referred to as “Lifestyle Drugs” (we hear all the It Girls will be popping Yasmin at Coachella this year!) — should take precedence over reproductive choice. Examples: the company believes that contraception and abortifacients “almost always involve immoral and unnatural practices” and that the morning-after pill “can cause the death of the embryo, which is a person.” (No, it can’t, and if an embryo is a person, I’m a bag of “organic whole leaf dulse.”)
It’s unsurprising when Christian publishing companies and craft supply stores fight the contraception mandate. (We covered the first 18 for-profit companies that fought to eliminate the birth control benefit earlier this year; now 25 have filed suit.) But doesn’t it seem rather misleading for Eden Foods, which says it’s the “oldest natural and organic food company in North America,” to hide its conservative agenda?
I don’t care about your religious beliefs, but I don’t have to support them with my dollars. Women who want their insurance company to cover contraceptives shouldn’t be at the mercy of jerks like Michael Potter.
You might ask why, in that case, much of Obamacare will run through private insurers. The answer is, raw political power. Letting the medical-industrial complex continue to get away with a lot of overcharging was, in effect, a price President Obama had to pay to get health reform passed. And since the reward was that tens of millions more Americans would gain insurance, it was a price worth paying.
But why would you insist on privatizing a health program that is already public, and that does a much better job than the private sector of controlling costs? The answer is pretty obvious: the flip side of higher taxpayer costs is higher medical-industry profits.
So ignore all the talk about too much government spending and too much aid to moochers who don’t deserve it. As long as the spending ends up lining the right pockets, and the undeserving beneficiaries of public largess are politically connected corporations, conservatives with actual power seem to like Big Government just fine.