Let’s talk about what King v. Burwell, the lawsuit seeking to invalidate a key part of the Affordable Care Act, isn’t.
It’s not a case about any grand idea. It doesn’t address the proper role of government or some important constitutional principle. It doesn’t attempt to right a historic wrong. It doesn’t do any of the things that other landmark cases that make it as far as the U.S. Supreme Court normally do.
Instead, it’s a case about a typo, a mistake in the sprawling law that the Republican-led Congress could easily fix — if its members treated doing so as the routine matter it should be, not the political statement they’ve chosen to make it. It’s also a symptom of an ugly yet ascendant strain in American politics, a willingness to use any means available to win, no matter what chaos ensues or who gets hurt.
How terribly sad to see Gov. Bobby Jindal endorse that impulse, to watch him side with those so bent on killing President Barack Obama’s health care law that they don’t care about the consequences for his own constituents.
The suit seizes on a single passage in the law suggesting that federal subsidies are available only to customers who buy health insurance on exchanges run by individual states, not those set up by the federal government for states — including Louisiana — where leaders punted. That’s not what it says elsewhere in the law, and there’s no evidence that anyone involved in writing or debating it ever imagined such an outcome.
And yet the plaintiffs, as well as the powerful players behind them, are hoping the high court will rule that people who buy their insurance through federal exchanges cannot receive tax subsidies — even though it would throw the private insurance industry into chaos and leave legions of customers in the lurch.
Should that happen, the obvious next step for those states would be to set up their own exchanges and enable their residents to hold on one of the law’s main benefits. But don’t try telling that to Jindal. He’s got a presidential campaign to run.
During yet another trip out of town to promote his expected candidacy, the governor put his foot down and swore that he’d do no such thing.
“In Louisiana, we’ve made it very clear. We’re not doing a state exchange,” he told a forum hosted by the conservative Washington Examiner last week. Never mind that his refusal would adversely affect some 165,000 Louisianans who now qualify for subsidies based on income and who receive an average of $322 a month to help pay for the health insurance they are required by law to carry, according to federal figures.
Like his abject refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, Jindal’s position on this issue is clearly designed to highlight his opposition to the law as a whole, to paint himself as more anti-“Obamacare” than thou.
Indeed, he’s been harshly critical of his peers who’ve taken more compassionate — or perhaps simply more practical — positions. That includes the congressional Republicans who are talking about instituting some sort of temporary measure so that millions of Americans won’t lose their insurance overnight, a scenario that they now realize could prompt a severe backlash.
It also apparently includes governors who’ve expanded insurance for the working poor by accepting the Medicaid money. An astonishing passage in a new Atlantic magazine profile of a potential presidential rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, describes a confrontation at a closed-door donor forum hosted by the Koch brothers over the subject. The magazine quoted an unnamed source who said Jindal and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley accused Kasich, who has invoked his faith in explaining his decision, of “hiding behind Jesus to expand Medicaid.” Jindal aides denied that he said those words and that the exchange was “heated,” as the magazine said, but they confirmed the governors’ “disagreement.”
Actually, whatever Jindal said or didn’t say to Kasich — and whatever Jesus would do, for that matter — is beside the point. Any politician who puts the people of his state first should understand that protecting their health and financial well-being should be a priority. Last week, Jindal once again proved that for him, it’s not.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.