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The Supreme Court on Healthcare

February 22, 2016

US Supreme Court

Since the passing of Supreme Court Justice Scalia last weekend, ‘court pundits’ have been presenting their opinions on who could be nominated next and what this could mean. Given that it is an election year, there has also been much talk about whether or not President Obama should make a nomination versus waiting until a new president is elected. We, of course, are interested in looking at this through the healthcare lens.

Polls show that Americans are currently split on whether the nomination should take place now or after the next presidential election. But nevertheless, Obama is expected to fulfill his constitutional responsibility of putting forth a nominee. Reasonably, one can assume that he would propose a more liberal individual, who is supportive of causes important to the Democratic Party. This would change the liberal-conservative split of the court justices, which was 4 to 5 before Scalia’s passing. However, it is interesting to note that several decisions made by the Supreme Court regarding healthcare, despite the conservative majority, have been surprisingly left-leaning – perhaps most notably the June 2015 opinion that cleared the way for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

A look at the recent past also shows that in 2013 the court ruled away from private enterprise and towards public health and access when it ruled that a private company could not patent the discovery of human genes – in this case specifically, genes related to diagnosing breast cancer. The court was of the opinion that by limiting open access to studying these genes, future treatments and diagnostics would be stifled. Patients and oncologists alike were ‘winners’ as articulated by this piece from Stanford Medicine.

Naturally, with the range of topics all cases argued before The Supreme Court, there are people who expect significant changes as a result of the next nomination. We, as a company committed to supporting medical research, hope that whatever the political makeup of justices, the Court continues to make decisions that will foster diagnostic and therapeutic development as well as access to quality healthcare.