Obamacare ruled constitutional; Twitter doesn't know what everyone is yelling about

A complicated ruling pushed the social network into chaos.

The first two tweets on my Twitter feed more or less sums up the social network's reaction to the Supreme Court's decision on healthcare:

With the benefit of a whole ten minutes to take stock, it appears zerohedge, although beaten by a tenth of a second, were more accurate (a strange world we live in). Bluntly, it is not possible to read an entire court ruling in ten seconds. The desire to be first led many tweeters to take the first mention of the individual mandate - the requirement that Americans buy healthcare if they can afford it - as gospel.

It wasn't just on twitter, however. CNN messed up bigtime:

And Fox News were just as wrong on their website:

So how did the confusion come about? The issue at stake was thought to be whether the mandate is allowed under the commerce clause of the US constitution. The federal government is allowed to regulate interstate commerce, and Obama's lawyers argued that mandating the purchase of healthcare fell under that. The supreme court, however, disagree, ruling that the mandate is not allowable under the clause.

This appears to have been where CNN stopped reading. Unfortunately, they didn't make it to the next bit. Since the only penalty for not buying insurance is a fine, a majority of the court held that the mandate is in effect a tax on not having healthcare - and thus allowable under the federal government's power to levy taxes. Amy Howe of SCOTUSBlog sums it up:

The Court holds that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause, but that doesn't matter b/c there are five votes for the mandate to be constitutional under the taxing power.

Needless to say, twitter wasn't happy about twitter:


Now that the ruling has been released, we can see how CNN's error happened. They read up to halfway through page three, where it says "The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce.”" If they'd read to page four, they would have seen "the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power under the Taxing Clause".

In short:

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.