Window to Washington

An inside-the-beltway look at the legislative and regulatory process.

With justices inside, the court of public opinion convenes outside

By Jessica Zigmond
1:45 pm, Mar. 27

High importance, high energy. That was the vibe outside the Supreme Court on a sunny and chilly Tuesday morning, the second of the three days set aside to hear oral arguments about the Affordable Care Act. And many consider Tuesday the most important of these three days, as it focused on the individual mandate, the milestone healthcare law's centerpiece.

“What the lawyers say in here today, on both sides, and what the judges decide in the next several weeks will affect all of us as patients, and me, particularly as a doctor, and the people that I know and work with, for the rest of our lives. It will make a difference,” said Dr. Lincoln Sheets, a family practice physician from Springfield, Mo., who is in the middle of a four-month research program on informatics at the National Institutes of Health. “This is my bias, I think, in the way I think of this: that it will affect whether I mostly see the people that can afford to see me, or the people who most need to see me.”

Sheets was at the head of a very long line of those waiting to get inside the court—just for five minutes—before others in line got their turn. Some brought sleeping bags and camped outside the court overnight, and Sheets said that about 95 people had already gotten into the public seating area for the day's arguments.

Meanwhile, groups including Planned Parenthood, the Service Employees International Union and the Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights chanted “The ACA is here to stay” and carried signs in support of the law—below the court's steps and across the street. Danai Lamb, a second-grade teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., took time off from work to rally in front of the court and traveled to Washington alone for the three-day event. She said she was inspired to participate after watching Rev. Al Sharpton on the cable TV program PoliticsNation. “People should have healthcare,” Lamb said. “It shouldn't be: everyone on their own.”

James Walker of Baltimore said he traveled with SEIU by bus to oppose the Tea Party, the law's fiercest critics. Walker, who has served food for the past 10 years at Upton Ave. Market, has health insurance, but said he came to show his support of health insurance for those who need it. “We're out here to fight for that,” Walker said.

From my perspective, there were far many more supporters of the law than opponents out on Tuesday—although there were still some. Stephen Houk was in town for the American Rental Association's national legislative caucus and stopped by the court because he had time to spare before he could check into his hotel. Houk—whose family has owned a Taylor Rental business in Torrington, Conn. for 23 years —picked up a flag and joined in the demonstrations.

“Reform is definitely needed,” Houk said. “Tort reform definitely is needed. There's a lot of things that need to happen as far as legitimate interstate insurance reform as far as being able to buy different policies in every state so true competition can happen,” he added. “But forcing people to buy fixed-given policies by the same companies that everyone is saying the problems are with isn't the answer.”

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHJZigmond.


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