HSPH faculty contribute to Affordable Care Act brief generating Supreme Court buzz

Amicus, or “friend of the court” briefs have been filed in record number prior to the start of oral arguments at the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the federal health care reform law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), scheduled for March 26-28, 2012. But only two out of the 136 briefs are generating buzz, according to Reuters. One, which argues in favor of upholding the individual mandate requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty, features the contributions of three health economics faculty members from Harvard School of Public Health.

“At the core of the brief is the idea that non-purchase of health care is different than non-purchase of other goods,” said Professor of Health Economics and Policy Meredith B. Rosenthal, one of the 40 experts who contributed to the brief. “People who don’t purchase health insurance are typically healthier. By taking themselves out of the larger risk pool, this raises premiums for everyone else. But if they become catastrophically sick or injured, there are mechanisms set up to ensure that they receive necessary care. This also affects everyone else’s health care costs. So, it’s not the same as the government forcing people to eat their broccoli, as some have argued.”

The brief was organized and drafted by [[David Cutler]], professor in the Harvard Economics Department. [[Katherine Swartz]], professor of health policy and economics at HSPH, and [[Joseph Newhouse]], John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management at HSPH, also contributed.

While Rosenthal can’t predict how their argument will play in the Supreme Court, she has been told that lawyers defending the law have cited it twice. “Our lawyers see this as a sign that it has already been influential,” she said.

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