Obama’s Health Care Law Heads to Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the reformed health care law in June 2012 according to the New York Times. That decision will be known in time to substantially impact President Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election to his second term.

Oral arguments to the Court are expected in March and a decision just before the 4th of July. Thus far there have been decisions from three lower appellate courts to the Supreme Court. The central issue to be decided is whether Congress has the constitutional power to require people to buy health insurance or be penalized through the so-called individual mandate.

The Court’s decision is also expected to help define the legacy of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. The decision will also

The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia is the only court striking down the mandate. The Appeals Court decision was divided among the three judges. The divided panel said the mandate overstepped Congressional authority and could not be justified by the constitutional power “to regulate commerce” or “to lay and collect taxes.”

The Supreme Court Justices will decide whether the mandate is constitutional and also whether, if it is not constitutional, how much of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, must fall along with the mandate.

The Obama administration, while arguing that the mandate is perfectly constitutional, has said that it is “absolutely intertwined” with two other provisions — one forbidding insurers to turn away applicants, the other barring them from taking account of pre-existing conditions.

The 11th Circuit ruled for the Obama administration on another point, rejecting a challenge to the law’s expansion of the Medicaid program. The Supreme Court also agreed to hear an appeal from that ruling.

The 26 states, represented by Paul D. Clement, a former United States solicitor general, had argued that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority by expanding the eligibility and coverage thresholds that states must adopt to remain eligible to participate in Medicaid.

The problem, Mr. Clement wrote, was that “Congress did not tie its new conditions only to those additional federal funds made newly available under” the Affordable Care Act. “It instead made the new terms a condition of continued participation in Medicaid, thereby threatening each State with the loss of all federal Medicaid funds — on average, more than a billion dollars per year — unless it adopts the act’s substantial expansions of state obligations.”

The Supreme Justices agreed to consider that question. The justices also said they would consider an intriguing threshold issue.

Last September, a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Virginia, ruled that it was premature to decide the case in light of the Anti-Injunction Act, a federal law that bars suits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” The Supreme Court had interpreted the term “tax” very broadly for purposes of the law.

If the Fourth Circuit ruling is correct, individuals may not challenge the individual mandate until the first penalty is due in April 2015. On Tuesday, a dissenting judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also endorsed that position.

Aside from the politics of the hassle over the constitutionality of the new health care law it is a tremendous matter to each of us personally. I’m 78 years old. I have endured hospitalizations in about a dozen hospitals over the past few years. But for Medicare my wife and I would have been bankrupt years ago. You can call it socialized medicine if you want but the fact is very few of us can write a check to a hospital and doctors for $30,000 or more for a single hospital stay. 30 some million people are still awaiting the full coverage of Obama’s health care law to take effect. Many have lost their homes to foreclosures because of medical bills.

All that ideological talk by members of the GOP about socialism doesn’t cut any ice with me. When you are lying in a hospital bed not knowing if you’re going to survive or not you won’t care what you call the medical treatment either. You just want to keep on breathing.

You might want to remember that when you vote in 2012.

Jack Wood

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