COMMENTARY: In case against health care law, the stakes could not be higher

By Charlie Owens

Next week the United States Supreme Court will hear the case against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care reform law that put 16 percent of the U.S. economy under control of the federal government. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which represents 350,000 small business owners nationwide and roughly 10,000 here in Michigan, is a plaintiff in the suit which may be the biggest landmark case in two generations.

The mission of NFIB is to promote and protect the right of small-business owners to own, operate and grow their businesses. We believe in free enterprise, which will exist no longer in America if the federal government takes away from business owners the power to make basic decisions, like whether, what kind and how much health insurance to purchase. And we believe that the Constitution, written by the founders to protect individual freedom from the federal government, forbids Congress from ordering Americans to purchase anything.

The Court will hear oral arguments in the case starting on March 26. The Justices have set aside six hours, which is more time allotted to any case in 50 years. They recognize the monumental significance of determining the limits of federal power over the lives of individuals. We are confident in the outcome because we have already won in the lower courts, and because the federal lawyers have been unable to answer a basic constitutional question: if the federal government has the authority to force people to buy insurance, then where does that authority stop? Can it force people to buy electric cars because Congress deems it better for the environment? Can it force people to buy broccoli, as one judge asked, because Congress deems it better for public health? The feds have no answer.

In any event, we will know the outcome by summer when the Court is expected to render a decision. But beyond the irreparable legal deficiencies of the ACA, it represents an extreme threat to America's economy. Consider the following:

* According to the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), Small firms represent 99.7 percent of all employers.

* Small business produces roughly half of the private Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and creates, on average, about two-thirds of the net new jobs each year (according to the SBA).

* Since 1999 health insurance premiums for small firms have increased by 113 percent. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2007).

* The nation's smallest firms pay an average of 18 percent more in health insurance premiums than large firms for the same benefits. (Commonwealth Fund).

* Fewer than half (45 percent) of the smallest firms in the U.S. can afford to offer health benefits to their employees. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2007).

According to Kaiser, the cost of employer-based health care benefits jumped by 9.5 percent between 2010 and 2011, and the proportion of small businesses offering health insurance dropped from 69 percent to 60 percent during the same period.

In fact, a study by McKinsey & Co. last year found that because of the health care law, as many as 50 percent of all small businesses would definitely or probably drop their coverage. The law imposes penalties on employers that do not provide health coverage. But in view of the exploding cost of private insurance, many employers are considering whether it would be cheaper to cancel their programs anyway and pay the penalty.

By any objective standard, and by President's own standard, the heath care law has been a failure. In fact, as a candidate in 2008 he famously promised that his health care scheme would cut the cost of health insurance for the average household by $2,500 per year. But it hasn't worked out that way. It's had a disastrous effect on the insurance markets, on the health care industry, on the federal budget and on employers who can't afford the coverage anymore.

All of the economic damage aside, the ACA threatens a permanent destruction from which we won't recover. It destroys the proper relationship between Americans and the federal government. We tell the President and Congress what they can or shouldn't buy with our money. Not the other way around. On behalf of all Americans, and for freedom's sake, we'll be sure to make that point clear this month as we bring our fight to the United States Supreme Court.


Charlie Owens is the Michigan State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) an organization with offices in every state capital and more than 350,000 members nationwide.

Published: Fri, Mar 23, 2012