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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Health Care Reform Law Challenge

by Leah Greene, JD, LLM on November 14th, 2011

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the challenge to the Affordable Care Act originating in Florida. The plaintiffs challenging the health care reform law, commonly referred to as Obamacare, are 26 states, including Texas.  The Court will hear four issues:  (1) whether the court has the jurisdiction to hear the challenge, (2) whether the individual mandate provision oversteps Congress’s constitutional authority, (3) whether the individual mandate provision can be severed, and (4) whether the ACA’s Medicaid amendments are unconstitutional.

The Court will first determine whether it has the jurisdiction to consider the challenge. The Anti-Injunction Act bars courts from hearing challenges to taxes before they are collected. Both the Obama administration and the States have argued that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply to the health care reform law.

Next, the Court will consider whether the mandate requiring private citizens to buy health insurance is a proper exercise of federal authority under the Commerce Clause. Essentially, the arguments boil down to the following:  whether the individual mandate is economic in nature and just another tax or whether it will create a slippery slope allowing Congress to regulate private purchasing decisions. The federal appellate courts are split on this issue – two have upheld the law, a third (Florida) held it unconstitutional, and a fourth held that a determination of the same was premature.

Third, the high court will consider whether Congress’s intentional decision to exclude a severability clause would void the whole law if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional. The Obama administration’s position is that the individual mandate provision can be severed; opponents say it cannot, as it is the heart of the law.

Last, the Court will hear whether the ACA’s Medicaid amendments, which require increased spending by the states, is unconstitutional. The states argue that the spending conditions the ACA imposes for the states to receive funding are onerous and constitute impermissible commandeering. No lower courts have upheld the states’ claim.

The Court has allowed 5.5 hours for oral arguments, which likely will be held in March 2012, with a decision possible in June 2012.  The decision obviously could have an effect on the presidential election next November.

The Court’s grant of certiorari comes on the heels of the D.C. Circuit’s decision last week that the individual mandate provision is constitutional. The challenge in that case was brought by the American Center for Law and Justice, which argued that the provision was a violation of religious freedom for those who relied on God for good health rather than purchasing health insurance. In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit ruled that Congress could pass such a requirement even if it infringed on individual liberties. A summary of that opinion is found here.

Kaiser Health has created this scorecard to track all of the health care law reform challenges.

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From → Health Law