On the eve of the anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the health care reform law, Sen. Ben Nelson warned its possible demise would be followed by consequences detrimental to most Americans.
If the court strikes down the law or its mandate for individual insurance coverage, those politicians who celebrate the result will be responsible for jeopardizing benefits already in place for seniors, children and young adults along with future benefits, while increasing costs for insured Americans, Nelson said.
Striking down the individual mandate likely would "pave the way for a single-payer system or lead back to the dysfunctional system America had prior to the health care reform law," the Democratic senator said.
That could be the end result of a decision by "an activist Supreme Court (that) allows ideological views to override judicial restraint and impartiality," Nelson said during a conference call from Washington.
Nineteen of 21 constitutional law scholars recently surveyed by Bloomberg News said the mandate is constitutional and should be upheld, he said.
Ironically, Nelson said, the mandate now sharply opposed by Republican members of Congress "originally was a conservative idea" sponsored by Republicans and was adopted in Massachusetts and signed into law in the mid-1990s by Gov. Mitt Romney, who now opposes the mandate as a Republican presidential candidate.
The mandate went from "GOP poster child to pariah" when it became part of the health care reform law supported by President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, Nelson said.
If the court strikes down the mandate or negates the entire law, Nelson said, the American people should understand that "the other side broke it; they own it, including the court."
The law already provides health insurance coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, makes prescriptions more affordable for seniors, ends lifetime caps on benefits and allows young adults to remain on their parents' coverage until they are 26, Nelson said.
Other provisions become effective in 2014, he said, including extending the pre-existing conditions guarantee to adults.
"Those who are so gleeful about making this a big political issue need to face the reality that this is not a victory," he said. "It's a political victory until people understand the results."
And that would include cost-shifting to Americans with health insurance that amounts to an estimated $79 billion, he said.
"Is there a constitutional right to shift the cost to people with insurance?" Nelson asked.
Nelson said he opposes both of the avenues opened up by a court decision negating or crippling the current law: a single-payer system or a return to "the old broken health-care system."
Before providing a vote clearing the way for Senate passage of the current law, he noted, he helped lead the fight against including a public option.