An Unhealthy Ruling
This isn't the kind of coincidence I'm fond of. Yesterday, just as the Drum Major Institute finished putting the final touches on the transcript of our most recent Marketplace of Ideas event, making it (as well as audio and video of the event) available to the world, along comes the U.S. District Court and overturns the very legislation we are hailing as a progressive advance.
At issue is Maryland's Fair Share for Health Care Law, requiring the state's largest employers (those with more than 10,000 employees) to pay at least the state's average percentage of payroll costs toward employee health care or pay an equivalent amount into a state health care fund. I've argued that this legislation is primarily about holding large profitable employers accountable to their employees and for the costs they impose on public health care systems by failing to provide insurance. Members of our panel and audience argued that the legislation was also a step toward achieving universal health care.
All of our arguments, however, may be trumped by the argument of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, representative of the state's big employers, including Wal-Mart, which convinced the Court that states have no jurisdiction to impose health care mandates on companies with employees in more than one state.
The lawyer for the retailers was none other than Eugene Scalia, son of the Supreme Court Justice, who insisted that "attempts to address the [health care] problem are going to require a federal response, not a patchwork of state and local mandates."
The problem, of course, is that there is no effective federal response to our health care crisis in the wings -- I am a fan of Rep. John Conyers' U.S. National Health Insurance Act, but it's not making much progress in Congress. In the meantime, the buck has been passed to states and localities and now their options have been reduced, with disappointing implications both for localities that have already passed Fair Share-style laws and states, like New York, that are contemplating them.
The State of Maryland plans to appeal.