Obamacare Obsessions

Image of Scott Pruitt

How much money are Oklahoma’s taxpayers spending in order to prevent people from getting health insurance?

That’s one obvious question that should be asked after a reprimanded federal judge in Muskogee—in what I believe is a crass political ruling—agreed with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, pictured right, that federal subsidies shouldn’t be allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in states that haven’t set up their own health insurance exchanges.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma ruled in favor of Pruitt’s lawsuit. After the health law was signed into law in 2010, the IRS implemented a rule that allowed federal exchanges to award subsidies under the ACA, which was the obvious intent of the law. Pruitt and other right-wingers, however, argue that IRS rule is unconstitutional, and they’re trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually side with them.

A federal appeals court in Virginia has upheld the IRS rule, and another appeals court in Washington D.C. initially sided with the anti-Obamacare crowd but has since vacated the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the overall constitutionality of the ACA in 2012. The right-wing is now simply trying reduce the effectiveness of the law.

Here are some points to consider about Tuesday’s ruling:

(1) White was nominated by former Republican President George W. Bush in 2003 and has been reprimanded for misconduct in his tenure. According to one 2011 news story, the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver reprimanded him after an “investigation found White used his power to appoint friends to be special judges in settlement proceedings even though they were unqualified.” It’s not difficult to see White’s decision as politically motivated given the president who nominated him as judge and his past judicial behavior, which indicates a problem with impartiality.

(2) Pruitt and Gov. Mary Fallin both hailed the political ruling as a great victory, but a ruling from a red-state obscure judge with apparent past ethical problems is hardly a panacea for those people who want to deny health care to low-income people. Fallin claimed that “Oklahomans won a major victory” because of the ruling, but that’s an obvious sweeping generalization. What about the Oklahomans who are benefiting from the law?

(3) As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted, Obamacare has been an overall success, and especially in those states that have embraced the obvious intent of the law and tried to get more people insured. This is a story pretty much ignored by the corporate media here and elsewhere. It’s much easier to report the reductionist doomsday predictions of right-wing politicians than to take a serious look at the growing numbers of people with health insurance in this country.

Meanwhile, Pruitt continues his relentless pursuit against Obamacare. How much is his obsession costing Oklahoma taxpayers? Are other issues, such as consumer protection, taking a backseat to Pruitt’s politically motivated agenda? My answers to those two questions: Too much. No doubt.