Health Care Reform: The Calm Before the Storm

| Tue Nov. 8, 2011 3:36 PM EST

As Congress fights over how best to shrink the federal budget deficit, and GOP presidential candidates dominate the headlines, President Obama's health care reform law, and the opposition to it, has dropped out of sight for a while. But that lull in the health care battle could end soon. That's because, as soon as Thursday, the Supreme Court could consider whether it will take up cases challenging the constitutionality of the health care bill this term. If five justices vote yes, the full court could hand down a decision by June 2012, in the heat of the presidential election.

Whether a decision could bring the health care fight roaring back again is an open question. Four appellate courts, including the the DC Circuit, which ruled on Tuesday, have upheld the law; only one has found it unconstitutional, a trend that doesn't bode well for opponents hoping the Supreme Court will overturn it. But there's no doubt that "Obamacare" was a motivating force behind the rise of the tea party movement and the conservative takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010. And if the activists who assembled last week in DC for a conference sponsored by Americans for Prosperity are any indication, the issue still holds tremendous resonance with members of the GOP's conservative wing.

"This is the fight of our lifetime," Betsy McCaughey, former New York lieutenant governor, declared during a health care panel at the conference. McCaughey is most famous for having helped torpedo the Clinton health care plan in the mid-'90s, and she was on hand in DC to talk about Obama's health care reform law, along with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The panel discussion was part of a summit sponsored by the Koch brothers-funded conservative organization that played a huge role last year in organizing tea party protests to try to prevent the passage of the health care bill. And McCaughey, who started the false rumors that the health care bill included "death panels," riled up the crowd as if it were 2009 all over again, with accusations that the Obama administration was manipulating science to justify its un-American intrusion into personal liberty. "How can it be that a woman has a right to choose an abortion but not a hip replacement?" she asked, insisting that the Obama health care plan will lead to rationed care.

McCaughey claimed that the current system is superior to most others and that it doesn't need much more fixing than could be accomplished through her proposed 20-page draft bill, which would purportedly fix health care mostly by restricting medical malpractice lawsuits and allowing the sale of insurance policies across state lines. As proof of the system's current merits, she claimed that 1 out of 4 men in Europe diagnosed with prostate cancer die from it, unlike virtually 99 percent of American men who live after a similar diagnosis. (This claim has been debunked by Factcheck.org, which notes, "Prostate cancer often doesn’t require treatment, so the aggressive screening common in the U.S. turns up both early cases and cases that would never need intervention. This leads to an inflated survival rate in the U.S., where asymptomatic patients are more likely to be diagnosed.")

McCaughey has set up a new group to fight the health care bill, called Defend Your Health Care, to rally the anti-reform troops. And clearly the Koch brothers are still deeply concerned about health care reform. But Congress has already shown this year that it’s not going to be able to repeal the bill entirely. So at this point, advocates on both sides are simply waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in. Consider it the calm before the storm.