As much of the country enjoyed triple-digit temperatures during the last weekend in June, I contemplated what to write about this week. The “hottest” topic in our world this week is the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Unless you’ve had your head in the sand or you truly qualify for one of those hardship exemptions I write about from time to time (i.e., no access to the Internet), you are almost certainly aware of the fact that last week the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of perhaps the most important policy in the President’s tenure to date. At the risk of oversimplifying a very complex topic, the high court in effect ruled that Congress does not possess the authority to require the country’s citizens to purchase health insurance; however, Congress does have the authority to levy a tax upon those who do not choose to purchase it. Resist temptation or join the fray? Within the context of a relatively quiet week in the realm of Health IT, let’s go out on a limb and examine the role information technology played in this process.
First it’s important to note the high court’s ruling on the ACA was easily the most important healthcare-related decision before the court in many years. Widespread interest is aptly captured by that modern-day metric, the Google search. A search on Saturday of “SCOTUS and Obamacare,” as the ACA has been affectionately labeled, returned 88,300,000 results. As a point of reference “God” delivered 292,000,000 results. Politics and religion are two topics this blog plans to avoid. Feeding the flames of widespread interest was the uncertainty surrounding when the announcement of the court’s ruling would take place. Speculation was rampant until one week ago today when we learned the announcement would be made on the last day of the court’s current session.
From an information technology perspective, it is informative to look back at how the events unfolded when the big day arrived. Everyone knew the court would open its final session at 10 am EST on Thursday. For some a seat in the courtroom took on rock-star status as folks lined up many hours ahead of time to try to secure a seat inside. A couple of fortunate souls who were able to secure a seat write for SCOTUSblog. Yes, I kid you not, there are blogs for everything these days. Depending on whose figures you read, 1 in 6 people on the planet are bloggers. General Internet figures are perhaps even more astounding. The importance to this story line is the folks from SCOTUSblog set up a live blog chat which is truly remarkable given the fact that electronics are not permitted in the room where court officials hand out paper copies of each SCOTUS opinion.
Of course television coverage of the decision was remarkably widespread and it was carried by most of the networks. In a classic example of haste makes waste, CNN and Fox News within seconds of each other incorrectly announced the “individual mandate” had been struck down by the court. Both networks immediately let fly the same message on their respective social media sites. CNN went on to say while on the air that this decision was a devastating blow to the Obama administration. It turns out the President was apparently tuned into to one, if not both, of these networks and for what must have seemed like a lifetime he believed the court had not ruled in his favor. This misconception was quickly corrected by members of the President’s staff who were also receiving feedback from within the courtroom.
In the meantime, the folks in the courtroom creating the live feed for SCOTUSblog, did not blink and within seconds of the blunder by CNN and Fox SCOTUSblog had accurately reported the court had largely upheld the ACA. Minutes later the television networks began back pedaling (perhaps based on what they were reading on SCOTUSblog?). The mistake made by CNN and Fox did not go unnoticed and in fact Jon Stewart brought his unique perspective to the situation on the Daily Show. I suspect Wolf Blitzer is no longer a member of the Stewart fan club.
In the aftermath, of course, the Internet continues to play a significant role. On Friday we posted a link to this reasonably objective overview of law. In addition, one finds other interesting topics, such as this examination of the possibility that Chief Justice Roberts changed his pivotal vote very late in the game. At the end of the day, information technology has substantially shortened the time it takes to propagate information. As the events of this past Thursday morning remind us, sometimes it is important to read more than the first two pages before telling the world what you think. How did you learn of the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday? Were you among the many who initially thought the law had been struck down? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.