President Barack Obama had a hard won victory on Saturday night (the 7-8th day of November 2009) when the landmark health care reform legislation (HR 3962) was passed with 220-215 votes. Now if everything goes the Obama way, then by the end of the year 09 Affordable Health Care for America Act would apply as a law impacting almost fifty million US lives. But what does this Act actually imply? How does it stand to impact an average US life? How does the Act affect the outsourcing industry at large? Through my article below I endeavor to answer these and many more questions.
Ab-initio we will refresh the fundamentals of federalism, stating the Roles, Duties, Nature, Scope and Restrictions on the government in a written federal constitution. Next we proceed to see whether the above attempt by the federal government to accede healthcare legislation is ultra-vires the powers granted by the US Constitution.
What is Federalism?
According to the traditional classification followed by the political scientists, constitutions are either unitary or federal. In a unitary constitution, the powers of the government are centralized in one government viz., the Central Government. In the federal constitution, on the contrary, there is a division of power between the federal and the state governments in a way that they are both inter-dependent and independent at the same time.
As we all know that Constitutions are organic documents which operate as fundamental law. The governments and their organs owe their origin to the constitution, derive their authority from the constitution and discharge their responsibilities within the framework of the constitution. The judiciary has the power to declare a law unconstitutional if the law is found to have contravened any provision of the constitution. The American Constitution is the oldest and a well praised example of federalism.
What are the powers granted by the US Constitution to the State Government?
Powers reserved for State Governments are:
Establishing local governments
Issuing licenses (driver, hunting, marriage, etc.)
Regulating intrastate commerce
Ratifying amendments to the U.S. Constitution
Providing for public health and safety
Exercising powers which are neither delegated to the Federal Government nor were prohibited from the States by the Federal Constitution (residuary powers)
Framing other domestic law (for example, setting legal drinking and smoking ages etc.)
What are the powers granted by the US Constitution to the Federal Government?
Under the Constitution, powers reserved for the Federal Government are:
Printing of money
Declaration of war
Establishing the armed forces
Entering into treaties with foreign governments
Regulating commerce domestically and internationally
Establishing post offices and issuing postage
Making laws necessary to enforce the Constitution
What are the powers shared by Federal and State Government?
Under the Constitution, the shared, or “concurrent” powers are:
Setting up courts
Creating and collecting taxes
Making and enforcing laws
Chartering banks and corporations
Spending money for the betterment of the general welfare
Acquiring private property with appropriate compensation
What is the HR 3962 Act ?
The HR 3962 Act conceptualizes a new, voluntary, public, long-term care insurance program to help purchase services and support for people who have functional limitations. The Act endeavors to form a new national program to provide affordable coverage for those who cant get health insurance today because of pre-existing conditions. Under this, the insurance companies must spend 85 cents out of every premium dollar on medical services, thereby fostering the expansion of Medicaid and improving the Medicare. Under this, the young adults, till the age 26, are covered within their parents policies.
The Obama administration intends to attain this by creating mandates. As a self-sustaining public insurance option (that is financed not by tax dollars but by insurance premiums), this provides an alternative to and competes with private health insurance companies, on a level playing field. Additionally, the Act intends to eliminate the antitrust exemption for health insurers and medical malpractice insurers thereby fostering competition thus targeting the existing monopolies in the health insurance market. It aims to establish a new mandatory essential benefits package that shall become the minimum quality standard for employer plans, with the passage of time. The package places a cap for annual out-of-pocket spending, at a maximum of $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per family to prevent bankruptcies from medical expenses.
This Act requires the employers to either provide insurance to their employees or contribute to the cost of their coverage through the public plan/exchange, though the small businesses are exempted from this requirement.
Arguments regarding Constitutionality of HR 3962
The legal fraternity is divided between two schools of thought about the constitutionality of the Act. First school believes that the Act is unconstitutional and places reliance on Articles I 8 and V of the US constitution and on Tenth Amendment. They claim that their argument is supported by the celebrated case of MARBURY v. MADISON, 5 U.S. 137 (1803) and some federalist opinions. The second school of thought places reliance on Article I 8 and the celebrated case of McCulloh v. Maryland, 4 Wheaton 316 (1819); Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548 (1937); United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936) and some federalist opinions. An in-toto analysis of these school of thoughts would conclude that the true interpretation of the word general welfare in Article I 8 of the U.S. Constitution can only determine the constitutionality of an Act like HR 3962. Till date the court opinions have been more inclined towards Hamilton (Federalist 33, 83 etc.) and Story rather than Madison (Federalist 41, 45 etc.).
Simply put, when the government mandates welfare as a quid-pro-quo for premiums collected, such welfare translates to nothing but a tax liability for the country men. Such an attempt by the government to regulate insurance sector by masquerading as an industry player is inspired from socialism. I personally feel that socialism is a Marxian concept and may not go well in an economy with capitalist foundations. The good thing is that people all over the world should buy insurance; this however turns bad when the government forces people to do so.
What are the implications of HR 3962 on the Outsourcing industry?
The object clause to the Act states that it is meant to provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending.
In reality, the act is a victim of haste. Ideally if the intention of the Obama administration and the object clause of the Act were actually in-sync then the administration should have awaited a confirmed indication of the end-of-recession. The administration should have first looked at strengthening the fundamentals of the economy, by:
better regulating the existing insurance sector,
improving the US agrarian culture and making the country self sufficient regards its food requirements,
checking the cost-of-living index and
creating more jobs in the private sector.
But if the intention is to make more and more Americans dependant on Federal Government for basic requirements, then the attempt is bang on.
Impact on the outsourcing industry:
Prima-facie it may seem complex but there are clear indications for the outsourcing industry to benefit once the HR 3962 is implemented. The benefit roots from the fact that the employees will become expensive for the employers post this Acts applicability. Now given the very competitive market scenarios, thin profit margin and the inability of the employer to transfer this increased cost to the end consumer, the employer is forced to search for the less costly alternatives. It is needless to say here that the Act magnifies the already existing labor arbitrage opportunities internationally. To appreciate the existing labor arbitrage opportunities you can refer to my older blog post.