Will the Fight Over ObamaCare Live Even if the Law Dies?


Will the fight over ObamaCare live even if the law dies? An article in Politico suggests that if the Supreme Court overturns the law, "winding it down could be almost as contentious as building it up." I'm skeptical. From a narrow, Beltway-focused perspective, it is certainly true that various administrative controversies will remain. But nationally, winding down the law is unlikely to result in even close to the volume of uproar that accompanied passage and initial implementation.

The article suggests that the main issues will be what to do with resources already committed to implementation, including perhaps 3,500 federal workers whose positions involve working on the law. No doubt there will be squabbling over how to redirect any funding that's suddenly uncommitted, as well as what to do with federal employees tasked with getting the law up and running.

But these bureaucratic challenges will be far less controversial than, say, the imposition of a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, or even state-level decisions about whether or not create health exchanges. The primary source of discontent with the law is that it exists; if and when the law is gone, most of the associated public controversy will disappear as well. 

A lack of widespread public controversy, however, doesn't mean that there won't be administrative decisions to made. The sheer complexity of the law ensures that there will be multiple bureaucratic messes to be swept up should it be struck down. 

But the administration's health agency isn't heading for the broom closet quite yet. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Politico last week that her agency has not yet started work on a plan for what it will do should the Supreme Court strike down the 2010 health care law. This admission comes despite the fact that she thinks it would "probably" be a good idea to have such a plan. I am not sure whether to believe that the agency, which has prioritized the health law for the last two years, has not started work on a contingency option, but either way, it's classic Sebelius: It's either not true, or it suggests poor administrative planning.