Supreme Court confirms President Obama’s healthcare law
Chief Justice John Roberts authored the decision that upholds President Obama’s biggest domestic achievement.
The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the heart of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, the requirement that almost all individuals purchase health insurance.
The ruling is a major victory for Obama, it preserves the biggest domestic initiative of his presidency in an election year when healthcare is a major issue. It also means that the law, which aims to insure more than 30 million Americans, can continue to be put into place over the coming years.
Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointee of President George W. Bush, joined the 5-4 majority in upholding the law. Roberts was joined by the liberal wing of the Court, Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The conservative wing — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito — was joined by moderate Anthony Kennedy in dissent.
Democrats hailed the ruling as a major victory.
“This decision is a victory for the American people. With this ruling, Americans will benefit from critical patient protections, lower costs for the middle class, more coverage for families, and greater accountability for the insurance industry,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who oversaw the law’s passage as Speaker, said in a statement.
Republicans refrained from criticizing the Court’s ruling directly, but railed against the law, which they say would damage the economy.
“Today’s ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety. What Americans want is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to healthcare reform that will protect Americans’ access to the care they need,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
(Read the full decision here).
Initial confusion reigned over the announcement of the Court’s decision, with media outlets reporting that the individual insurance mandate. Had that happened, observers believed the entire law could have unraveled.
While the Court decided that the mandate ran aground of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, it ruled that it could stand as a tax. That means that the federal government can enforce the rule that requires almost all individuals to purchase healthcare insurance, or pay a tax.
“In this case, however, 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,” Roberts wrote.
Here’s the “Plain English” explanation from SCOTUSblog:
The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters.
The Court limited language in the law that requires states to expand coverage of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, preventing the federal government from withholding funding from states that do not comply. Still, the ruling allowed the expansion to move forth.
In the dissent, justices accused the court of overreaching, saying that the mandate was never intended by Congress to be interpreted as a tax.
“To say that the Individual mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it,” wrote the dissenting justices.
So, what does the ruling mean for you?
The implementation of the healthcare law will largely go ahead as planned and existing provisions will remain in place. For example, insurance companies are currently banned from denying coverage due to a pre-exsiting condition. That provision will expand to cover anyone with such a condition in 2014. It would remove out-of-pocket costs for preventative care and remove lifetime limits on health insurance coverage.
The law is also intended to expand access to health insurance to the uninsured, a high-stakes issue for Latinos. Around 16 million Latinos are uninsured, comprising nearly one-third of all uninsured Americans, according to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). The mandate, which will go into place in 2014, is projected to make 9 million more Latinos eligible for insurance coverage, including 6 million non-elderly Latinos.
“This means full implementation of the law can move forward,” said Jennifer Ng’andu, director of health policy projects at NCLR. “The full law stands and so from our perspective, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure the benefits of the law reach Latinos.”
But Republicans argue that the $1 trillion law is an entitlement the country can’t afford to pay for and that the mandate could drive up insurance costs for individuals who already have private insurance. Business groups have also expressed fear that rising costs could cause employers to drop insurance coverage, a charge that supporters deny.
“It’s higher cost for people who have insurance. It’s creating billions of dollars from the federal government to pay for this, and the money is not there,” Mercy Viana Schlapp, a former Bush administration aide and supporter Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, told Univision News. “You’re talking immense costs not only to our government, but to our small business owners, and that impacts so many Hispanics.”
House Republicans immediately scheduled a vote to repeal the law, but that’s all but certain to be blocked by a Democratic Senate or vetoed by Obama.
While non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the law would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, it projections show that new revenues and reduced Medicare costs would offset that amount, stopping it from adding to the federal budget deficit.
But the CBO said Thursday that it would have to reassess the budgetary impact of the law in light of the Court’s limitation on the state’s expansion of Medicaid.
Politically, the healthcare law dominated the 2010 midterm election and figures to play a major role in this year’s election, which will decide who will occupy the White House and which party controls Congress.
The general voting population is sharply polarized around the law, with more saying they oppose the law than favor it. But the opposite is true for Latino voters. Forty-eight percent of Latinos said they think the health law is a good idea, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll, whereas only 20 percent say it’s a bad idea.
In addition 38 percent said they would be pleased if the Court upholds the law compared to 18 percent who said they would be disappointed. Thirty-five percent said they have mixed feelings about such a ruling.
(Photo: Jordan Fabian)