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Developing a Durable Right to Health Care
Fuse Brown, Erin C. (2013)

Developing a Durable Right to Health Care

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) signature accomplishment was the creation of a statutory right to health care for the uninsured. This is a momentous change in policy, addressing one of the most vexing social issues of our time and affecting millions of people and billions of dollars of the U.S. economy. This ambition and the degree of societal and political debate leading up to the Act’s passage suggests that it is a “superstatute,” a rare breed of statute that can, among other things, create rights and institutions more typically thought to be the province of constitutional undertaking. Nevertheless, the structure of the ACA’s right to health care makes it fragile and reduces its chances of becoming a durable right. The ACA may end up as a “quasi-superstatute:” a statute that aspires but fails to become a superstatute through a failure of political and public entrenchment. The problem is that the right to health care is to be delivered largely through changes to the private health insurance market, requiring the collective action of many reluctant actors, including unwilling states and recalcitrant individuals. Even though it survived legal challenge before the Supreme Court, the ACA’s right to health care faces significant political and market challenges that threaten to retrench rather than entrench its benefits in the public’s mind. The vulnerability of this right to health care is concentrated early in its lifespan, and if it survives these early years, forces such as the endowment effect may strengthen the right’s durability as its benefits take hold. The fragility of the ACA’s right to health care and its uncertain path to durability provide lessons to future framers of a right to health care regarding the long timeframe for implementation, uncertainty, complexity, and structure. The risk of becoming a “quasi-superstatute” highlights the importance of how such social reforms ought to be structured to achieve entrenchment and durability after the ink is dry on the new legislation.

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Suggested Citation
Fuse Brown, Erin C.. (2013). Developing a Durable Right to Health Care. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,

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