A much anticipated ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court sucked the air out of the room this week as all eyes turned to the nation’s high court, which bucked odds makers and rejected Florida’s challenge to President Barack Obama’s ambitious health care overhaul.
A 5-4 decision, which came the last day of its current term, ended weeks of prognostication, posturing and expectation over the sweeping decision that, for now at least, shifts the course of health care delivery in the United States.
Anticipating a different decision, Republican officials rolled out the Florida and U.S. flags and set up a podium for an anticipated press event lauding the high court for striking down what has been called Obamacare, even by Obama supporters.
Instead, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi ascended the steps of the Old Capitol to tell a bank of cameras and reporters of her extreme disappointment that Florida’s lawsuit challenging the federal government’s ability to require citizens to carry health insurance was defeated by the slimmest of margins.
Bondi’s lament was echoed throughout Republican ranks in Tallahassee and across the state as analysts combed through the 193-page labyrinth of a ruling marked by shifting alliances and the surprising and pivotal action of one of the court’s more conservative justices.
“This is going to be devastating to our economy,” Gov. Rick Scott told reporters hours after the ruling. “Probably more importantly, it is going to be devastating to patients.
“If you look at every government program in the world, they overpromise, they run out of money, they underpay providers and that rations care,” Scott said. “On top of that, as bad as it is for patients, it’s going to be just as bad for taxpayers. We’re not going to be able to afford this.”
Critics of the Affordable Care Act took solace in at least one part of the ruling: Florida and other states would not be held hostage over federal Medicaid funds should they decide not to expand Medicaid coverage to include nearly all individuals under 133 percent of poverty, or about $30,000 for a family of four. Florida officials have long complained that the state can barely afford to pay for Medicaid now, and taking on new enrollees could bankrupt it, even if Washington will pick up 90 percent of the cost.
They then turned their attention to November, saying the battle over who pays for health care now shifts from the courts to the polls.
“The American people will have their say in November,” Bondi said. “And I am confident that they will join me in rejecting a law that is so harmful to individual liberty, to our economy, and to the welfare of our people.”
A round-up via The News Service of the Florida.
OUTFIT OF THE WEEK: BLACK ROBES
Nearly all the news surrounding state government this week came out of some court or other.
A federal judge in Tallahassee rejected an effort to bar the state from resuming a voter purge that is already on hold, issuing a ruling that could severely undermine the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against an initiative aimed at removing suspected non-citizens from the election rolls.
At the same time, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said his ruling not to issue an injunction was driven in part by assurances from the state that it would not forward any more names to county elections supervisors based on a list of potentially ineligible voters that even the state concedes is inaccurate. That list is drawn from driver’s license and voter-registration records.
Meanwhile in a different case involving elections law, the state and the opponents of a suspended law dealing with third party voter registration are moving toward a settlement over the new rules, both sides said this week.
Circuit judges meanwhile, wrangled over other issues including online travel and prison health privatization efforts. The first case involves whether online travel companies should pay taxes on the entire cost of their service or just on the discounted rates they pay hotels.
The other lawsuit is a dispute over prison health privatization. The Florida Nurses Association and a state employees union filed a lawsuit this year challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s decision to use the budget’s fine print, known as proviso language, to direct the Department of Corrections to contract with private health companies.
That case may be moot, however, as the proviso language outlining the privatization effort expires June 30.
CUBA LAW BARRED, FOR NOW
A Miami federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a new law that would prevent the state and local governments from contracting with companies that have business links to Cuba.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore said Odebrecht Construction, Inc., which filed a lawsuit early this month, had “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success” that the law violates the federal constitution.
The law would prevent companies from receiving government contracts of $1 million or more if they do business in Cuba or are affiliated with firms that do business there. Odebrecht, a Coral Gables-based firm, argues that the law is unconstitutional because it intrudes on the federal government’s powers to set foreign policy.
STORY OF THE WEEK; U.S. Supreme Court upholds Affordable Care Act but says federal government can’t withhold Medicaid funds if states balk on additional coverage.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” Justice John Roberts in the opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act.