Supreme Court upholds key portion of health law

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By Manju Shukla
Date  28 June 2012
In a major victory for President Obama ahead of November's presidential election, the Supreme Court upheld ObamaCare as constitutional today in a landmark ruling that lets stand the law’s controversial provision requiring people get health insurance or pay a penalty.

A five-vote majority on the court ruled that the law’s “individual mandate” was allowable under the taxing power that the Constitution grants to Congress.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four most liberal justices in the ruling.

“The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
“Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," he continued.

The law itself doesn’t call the mandate a “tax,” but rather a penalty. Even so, the payment may “for constitutional purposes be considered a tax,” the court ruled.

Also kept in place are the law’s sweeping provisions that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, setting up new health exchanges, and letting young people get covered on their parents’ plans.

Obama said the decision to uphold his health care law was a victory for the American people.

"Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over the country whose lives will be more secure because of this law," he said from the East Room of the White House.

Earlier in the day, Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent in November's presidential election, blasted the decision and said he'd repeal the law if elected.

"Help us defeat ObamaCare and the liberal agenda," he said on a rooftop overlooking the US Capitol.

Romney called it "bad law" and "bad policy" that would raise taxes on the American people by over $500 billion and add trillions to the national debt.

"It's important for us to repeal and replace ObamaCare," he said. "If we want to replace Obamacare we're going to have to get rid of President Obama."

The four liberals on the Supreme Court — Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer — argued in their own separate opinion that the mandate was more broadly allowable under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, but what sustains the mandate is the five-vote majority upholding it as a taxing power.

Supporters of the law were fearful that if the mandate got struck down, the entire law could fall apart because of its interlocking provisions like those requiring insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions.

Besides the mandate, the court ruled on ObamaCare’s major expansion of Medicaid — putting millions of uninsured Americans with new requirements and resources for states administering the program — but yanking funding if states don’t accept the law’s new requirements.

"Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use,” Roberts wrote in his majority opinion.

“What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding,” the court ruled.

Reading his dissenting opinion from the bench, Justice Anthony Kennedy called the decision to uphold most of Obamacare a "vast judicial over-reach” that would extend federal power “to virtually anything.”

"What Congress called a penalty, the court calls a tax. What Congress called a requirement, the court called an option," he said. "In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety,” Kennedy, who was joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, told the court. Justice Clarence Thomas also opposed the ruling.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to continue the fight against the law.

“Republicans won’t let up whatsoever,” McConnell said. “There is one way to fix ObamaCare, a full repeal.”

Roberts may have saved Obama’s bacon, but he took a parting shot at the 2,700 page law he upheld. “It is not our job to save people from the consequences of their political decisions,” he said.

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