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Health stocks waver, charity care costs soar as justices debate healthcare law

The protesters have gone home, the #SCOTUS activity on Twitter will soon drop to normal levels, and now it’s a waiting game. Wednesday was the last day of testimony about the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court. The justices heard arguments about severability and the expansion of Medicaid. You can find highlights of the […]

The protesters have gone home, the #SCOTUS activity on Twitter will soon drop to normal levels, and now it’s a waiting game.
Wednesday was the last day of testimony about the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court. The justices heard arguments about severability and the expansion of Medicaid. You can find highlights of the Medicaid arguments here and severability here.

Shares of publicly traded hospital firms traded lower Tuesday and posted bigger declines than the broader market, and health insurers stocks fluctuated as well. The Wall Street Journal reports that leaders in both industries are staying focused on running their companies as opposed to speculating about the fate of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on the bottom line.

There was a little more sympathy for Obamacare defender Don Verrilli in yesterday’s commentary. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein points out that, “Its very hard to defend anything when your opponents choose the questions,” and Verrilli’s “biggest problem was that, right out of the gate, Justice Anthony Kennedy — the man who Verrilli was there to convince — basically asked when the Affordable Care Act stopped beating its wife.”

Klein also spoke with a legal scholar who easily found a limiting principle that eluded Verrilli this week: elections. Yale’s Akhil Reed Amar said that:

The broccoli argument is like something they said when we were debating the income tax: If they can tax me, they can tax me at 100 percent! And yes, they can. But they won’t. Because you could vote them out of office. They have the power to do all sorts of ridiculous things that they won’t do because you’d vote them out of office. If they can prevent me from growing pot, can they prevent me from buying broccoli? Perhaps, but why would they if they want to be reelected? So if you ask me what the limits are, I’d say read McCulloch vs. Maryland. And reread it. And keep reading it till you understand it.

On Talking Points Memo, one reader suggested that the justices probably had enough legal expertise to write their own limiting principle to solve the problem.

The justices briefly focused on another limiting principle yesterday: Congress’s ability to get anything done. There was some discussion of the fact that if the Supreme Court overturns the healthcare law, the dysfunctional Congress might not be able to find another solution.

On the other side of the country, Washington State marked a new and daunting milestone in healthcare spending. The Seattle Times reported that “charity care” delivered at state hospitals reached, for the first time, the $1 billion mark. Columnist Danny Westneat pointed out that five years ago, the figure was only half that, which shows that the price of “freedom” from having to buy health insurance gets more expensive every year.

[Photo from flickr user majunznk]

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