The Constitution grants only to Congress the power to legislate. There is no greater threat to our delicate system of government than when federal courts allow unelected bureaucrats to make up their own laws. Yet last week, federal Judge Rosemary Collyer did just that.
The ruling has ominous implications for ObamaCare, enacted one year ago but not yet in full effect: This decision would allow the "health reform" law to become even more Orwellian than it already is, without any action from Congress.
In a case where I served as chief attorney for the plaintiffs, Judge Collyer allowed to stand three internal rules of the Social Security Administration that make receipt of Social Security retirement benefits contingent upon enrollment in Medicare. Plus, a person who withdraws from Medicare would not only have to give up Social Security retirement benefits, but repay all benefits previously received.
All the plaintiffs had paid into Social Security and Medicare throughout their working lives. They were eligible for both programs, but they didn't want to enroll in Medicare because they had their own savings and health-insurance programs that they preferred.
Three of the plaintiffs had Federal Employee Health Benefits, and two of them had health-savings accounts. Two plaintiffs have ample savings and high-deductible health-insurance policies. None of the plaintiffs sought to get any of their Medicare taxes back; they simply don't want to enroll in Medicare — but do desire their Social Security retirement benefits.
Thanks to Collyer's ruling, though, the plaintiffs are now forced into Medicare and will have to give up their private health plans and health savings accounts. (The ruling still allows private "MediGap" coverage to supplement Medicare.) Indeed, all seniors now must enroll in Medicare, Part A, whether they want it or not. If they don't, their Social Security retirement benefits will be taken from them.
This decision flies in the face of the law: The Social Security and Medicare Acts specify that the receipt of benefits in each program is entirely "voluntary." In both acts, Congress directed that if a person meets the prerequisites (age, payments into the programs, etc.), he or she "shall be entitled" to the benefits.
Collyer admitted that "entitlement" normally means "to give legal right ... to, qualify for something." But then she opined: "This is a different type of entitlement."
Adding to the bizarreness, the judge thereby completely contradicted her own rul ing in the same case, 18 months before. Back then, she asserted that rules written by the Social Security Administration are indeed different from the Social Security and Medicare Acts.
More, Collyer wrote that Congress did "not link withdrawal from Social Security benefits with withdrawal from Medicare, Part A, and that neither the [Social Security] statute nor regulation specifies that [persons] must withdraw from and repay [Social Security] retirement benefits in order to withdraw from Medicare, Part A."
Why did the bureaucrats' rules conflict with the law then, but not now?
The practical effect of the ruling is ominous. Entitlements established in a host of federal statutes may now become mandatory. Will we all be compelled to take all kinds of government benefits to which "we may be entitled"?
More immediately, whether they want it or not, seniors will now be forced into Medicare, a program that even Judge Collyer asserts "may bankrupt all of us." Indeed, she also noted, rightly, that people on Medicare are not treated as well in hospitals as those with private insurance.
Yet her latest opinion condemns all retired Americans to that miserable state.
Consider, too, the impact on ObamaCare. That 2,000-plus-page law is literally filled with directives for the Department of Health and Human Services to enforce the program. Literally hundreds of new regulations and rules, impacting every aspect of every American's life, health and behavior, must be promulgated.
And those decisions will be by the very same bureaucrats whose outrageous rules Collyer just upheld. If her ruling stands, they'll have carte blanche to write them as they please — even in plain contradiction of the law's clear meaning.
We appealed our case, Hall v. Sebelius, to the US Court of Appeals this week. Let's all hope that the higher courts strike a blow for common sense and good law — or we all may find ourselves "entitled" to lots of things we don't want.