Democratic Field Champions Health Care as Human Right

Democratic Field Champions Health Care as Human Right
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Democratic presidential candidates praised Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling preserving a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, which they say vindicates President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The White House hopefuls also made clear a political goal if elected president in 2016 – providing universal coverage – and how they would sell it to Americans – by portraying it as a human right.

In King v. Burwell, the second major legal challenge to the law, the justices ruled 6-3 to authorize tax subsidies intended to help low-income and middle-class Americans afford health insurance, regardless of whether their coverage is obtained through a state exchange or a federal one. Conservative justices John Roberts – who wrote the majority opinion – and Anthony Kennedy joined with the liberals on the bench in upholding the subsidies.

“Yes!” Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton tweeted after the ruling was handed down. “SCOTUS affirms what we know is true in our hearts & under the law: Health insurance should be affordable & available to all.”

Clinton’s reaction was emblematic of a larger political goal for Democrats: to expand health care coverage to every American. In anticipation of another monumental Supreme Court ruling expected soon on gay marriage, Clinton’s campaign released a video in which she describes same-sex marriage as a human right. Clinton and her fellow Democrats sounded a familiar tune Thursday, arguing that health care also qualifies as a human right.

While acknowledging the law is not perfect, the former secretary of state and architect of the failed “HillaryCare” initiative during her husband’s presidency attacked congressional Republicans for their efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act. She repeated commonly cited accolades for the law, including the ability to stay on one’s parents’ insurance plans until age 26, and the guarantee that coverage can’t be denied to those with pre-existing conditions.

“Republicans should stop trying to tear down the law and start working across party lines to build on these successes,” Clinton said in a statement.

Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who lags far behind Clinton in national polls, reacted with a similar message promoting universal health care. “Now that this ideological attempt to stop #ACA failed, we must redouble our efforts to bring health care to every person in this nation,” he tweeted.

“With the national goal of universal coverage now affirmed, we must reduce costs by improving wellness,” O’Malley continued in a statement. “Innovations for better coordinated care, personalized medicine, and the alignment of profit incentives to promote wellness make all of this possible.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, said the court acted within its power to guarantee health care subsidies to Americans regardless of where they live. “It would have been an outrage to throw 6.4 million people off health insurance,” he said in a statement.

Sanders called health care a “right of citizenship,” adding that his overall goal is to establish a “Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.”

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island governor who has largely been running a single-issue campaign based on the Iraq War, lauded the court’s ruling and touted his state’s ACA rollout as “one of the nation’s best.”

Chafee, a former Republican, did not call for universal coverage or depict health care as a human right, instead saying, “More insurance means more healthy Americans.”

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden after the ruling was handed down, a relieved but unsurprised President Obama echoed Clinton, O’Malley, and Sanders, proclaiming, “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

If a Democrat is elected to succeed Obama, it might simply be a foundation for more reforms. 

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