On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Latest Challenge to the Affordable Care Act, and More

In today’s On the News segment: It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the Affordable Care Act will survive its latest challenge; one of the best ways to fight inequality is to fight for workers’ unions; fifteen brave students said that they won’t pay back their unjust student loans; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the Affordable Care Act will survive its latest challenge. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of King v. Burwell. That case centered on whether or not the law meant to provide tax subsidies to eligible people in all states, or only in states that set up their own exchange. As Solicitor General Don Verrilli argued, there are several reasons why subsidies must be available through the federal exchange as well. For starters, it makes no sense that Congress would have purposely written a death spiral provision into the law. If tax subsidies were not available to people in some states, it’s unlikely that healthy people would sign up for insurance. In those states, only sick people would sign up, and insurance companies would have to hike up premiums to cover the cost of medical care. In order to prevent such a death spiral, states would have to set up their own exchanges, and that would create what Justice Anthony Kennedy called a “serious constitutional problem.” By interpreting the ACA to only provide subsidies in state-run exchanges, the law would essentially require that states set up their own exchange. That requirement would be a pretty clear violation of the 10th Amendment, and so that interpretation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But, the right-wing Justices have never limited themselves to what’s sensible, and there is still a chance that they may influence the more-moderate members of our nation’s highest court. If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, 13 million Americans in 34 states will be left scrambling to save their coverage. While some may be able to figure out how to pay premiums without the subsidies, the vast majority of people will lose the insurance coverage that they finally got. It’s not an exaggeration to say that thousands of Americans could die if our Supreme Court strikes down federal subsidies. We probably won’t know their ruling until June, so we’ve got to keep the pressure on Congress and force them to fix the law so that Americans can keep their much-needed health care.

One of the best ways to fight inequality is to fight for workers’ unions. According to a new paper by economists from the International Monetary Fund, more wealth flows to the top when fewer people are enrolled in unions. The authors wrote, “We find strong evidence that lower unionization is associated with an increase in top income shares in advanced economies during the period [of] 1980-2010.” In other words, three decades of Ronald Reagan’s war on unions have nearly wiped out the middle class and sent hoards of wealth flowing straight to the top. The economists found that lower union membership accounts for about half the income gains of the top ten percent, and about half of the increase in inequality. They explained that as workers’ bargaining power decreased, shareholders and CEOs began to have more influence, and they started taking home a bigger share of corporate profits. This study confirmed what many of us have known all along – if we want to reduce inequality and regrow the middle class, we have to fight for our unions while we still have a chance.

While conservatives were busy complaining about Obamacare, economists in Vermont were saying that it’s time for single-payer. Last week, more than 100 economists signed a letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin, which said that universal health care is “not only economically feasible, but highly preferable to a fragmented market-based insurance system.” After narrowly winning re-election, Gov. Shumlin backtracked on that state’s promise to implement government health care, saying that it would cost more than originally projected. These 100 economists argue that healthcare should not be left up to the private market. They said that government-funded care would make citizens healthier, which would save much more money in the long run. The letter says, “Evidence from around the world demonstrates that publicly funded health-care systems result in improved health outcomes, lower costs, and greater equity.” We’re the only developed nation that doesn’t provide national healthcare, and Vermont should take the lead on changing that sad statistic.

Last month, 15 brave students said that they won’t pay back their unjust student loans. The Corinthian 15 started a debt strike, and some experts say that other students should join them. According to Paul Buchheit over at Common Dreams, there are several reasons why students should burn their loan papers. Paul points out that this debt protest has already begun. In addition to the Corinthian 15, groups like the Debt Collective and the Rolling Jubilee are fighting predatory loan practices. Paul explains that for-profit universities are raking in billions in taxpayer money, despite dismal graduation rates, and traditional universities aren’t treating students much better. Tuition rates have skyrocketed to 12 times what they were in 1978, and colleges are spending more on administrative salaries than they are on education. To wrap up his list, Paul says that today’s graduates have been cheated out of good jobs, and that those who are lucky enough to be employed earn less than they would have in the year 2000. Our higher education system is broken, so perhaps a debt protest is the only way we can demand a better system.

And finally… Pope Francis says it’s time to end our “throw-away” economic system. During a recent speech to the association of Italian cooperative movements, the Pope said that the culture of globalization has led to a “dizzying rise in unemployment” and a “hunger” that makes people accept unfairness. He called for a new way of thinking that addresses poverty, employment and welfare. Pope Francis said that “when money becomes an idol, it commands the choices of man. And thus it ruins man and condemns him. It makes him a slave.” He added that the “right way,” is when “capital does not have command over men, but men over capital.” In other words, our culture of globalization has led us to worship money, at the expense of people, and it’s time for a better system. As Pope Francis implied, we have the resources to address poverty and hunger and society, but first, we have to put people ahead of profit.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of March 9, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.