The key components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, survived their date with the Supreme Court Thursday.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts crossed the aisle in a 5-4 ruling that saved key component’s of Obama’s healthcare law, including the controversial caveat that most all Americans will be required to obtain health insurance by the year 2014 or be faced with financial penalties on their 2015 tax forms. The victory was tempered by the modification of another provision, which will prevent the government from withdrawing existing Medicaid funding from states to utilize in a more wide-ranging Medicaid expansion.
Still, the compromise seemed more than fair to those who supported the act, with Obama calling the decision “a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure,” according to the Washington Post.
Chief Justice Roberts joined the four recognized liberal justices of the court–Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg–in ruling that the health insurance mandate, known as the minimum coverage provision, fell under Congressional powers of taxation, since the penalty for not buying health insurance amounts to a tax, and was therefore constitutional. The high court shot down the Obama administration’s argument that the provision was protected under the commerce clause, although Bader-Ginsburg favored allowing it as such.
“The Affordable Care Act is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part,” The Washington Post reported Roberts wrote in the 59-page opinion. The opinion stated that although the minimum coverage provision cannot be held up under the commerce clause, which allows Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but not order citizens to participate in it, “it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”
Interestingly, neither party in the case broached the subject of the act being a tax, according to The Washington Post. Rather, the court asked that the case be argued utilizing a strategy based on an esoteric, 19th-century piece of legislature known as the Anti-Injunction Act. The law prevents suits from being brought against taxes before the tax has been paid. Florida and the 25 other states opposed to the legislation declared it an excessive use of power that forced consumers to purchase a product, a charge that the Anti-Injunction argument sought to prove was premature and therefore unfounded.
In a move that served to demonstrate the splintering opinions of a closely contested case, Bader-Ginsburg wrote a separate opinion, joined predominantly by Sotomayor, that agreed with Roberts, but added the caveat that the act should indeed be considered constitutional under the commerce clause as well.
The dissenting justices, represented by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, wrote a vitriolic dissent, calling the ruling “a vast judicial overreaching,” according to the Washington Post. They proceeded to argue that the law’s allegedly byzantine construction is in itself unconstitutional, as it flies in the face of the ideals of streamlined, limited federal power, and will only serve to make passing future legislation that much more difficult.
The survival of the minimum coverage provision was considered crucial to the law’s survival, as, without it, many insurers would be unable to comply with other, less polarizing aspects of the law without having their premiums skyrocket. Such provisions include children being able to stay on their parent’s health plan until the age of 26 and a ban on withholding or limiting benefits for children with known pre-existing conditions.
While surprisingly clipped, the newly defanged plan to expand Medicaid can go forward, the justices ruled, so long as Congress did not threaten current Medicaid funding and the expansion was presented to states as a legitimate choice, not a federal strong-arming. It is estimated that roughly half of the newly eligible Americans come 2014 will be covered by Medicaid, which provides health insurance to the disabled and impoverished through a combination of state and federal funding.
Congressional Republicans and GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney were quick to circle the wagons. “What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day as President,” The Washington Post reported the former Massachusetts Governor as saying. “And that is, I will act to repeal Obamacare.”
Information from the Washington Post was used in this story.
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