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Will the U.S. Supreme Court rule on health care reform today?  
20120617

 

Will the U.S. Supreme Court rule on health care reform today?

 
MIAMI-Two months after the Supreme Court's hearings on the health care reform law, the justices are expected to announce their decision any day now -- possibly as early as June 18 but no later than June 28.
 
The US Supreme Court releases opinions on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and on the third Monday of each sitting.  The public is usually alerted a few days prior to an opinion being released, but the specific case name and docket number are kept secret until the formal announcement. This practice may begin as early as October of the new Term and typically ends in late June or early July of the following year. 
 
According to a 
New York Times/CBS poll released Thursday, two-thirds of Americans are hoping the Court will strike down at least part of the law. A full 41 percent said the entire law should be overturned while only 24 percent want the Court to "keep the entire health care law in place." 
 
In March, the Court considered the following issues tied to the Affordable Care Act:
 
  • Does an 1867 law, the Anti-Injunction Act, prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing and deciding the health care law challenge? The act bars pre-enforcement challenges to taxes. The penalty in the health care law for failure to purchase minimum insurance will be enforced by the Internal Revenue Service, but will not appear on a taxpayer's tax return until 2015.
  • Is the so-called individual mandate to purchase health insurance constitutional?
  • If the mandate is unconstitutional, can it be severed from the rest of the law or must the entire law fall?
  • Does the expansion of Medicaid coverage for the poor and disabled unconstitutionally coerce the states into participating, because if they do not participate, they risk losing federal money in the federal-state funded program?

 

What options does the Court have in deciding the challenge?

 
The justices have the following options:
 

  • They can rule that their jurisdiction to decide the challenge is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. That decision would only put off the constitutional test until at least 2015 when the penalty on eligible persons who fail to buy minimum coverage is enforced.
  • They can rule that the law is constitutional. That would end the legal debate, but not the political debate. Whatever the justices do, the health care law likely will be an issue in the presidential election campaigns.
  • They can strike down the individual mandate. If they take that option, they then face three sub-options (You didn't really think this was going to be simple, did you?)
    • They could decide the mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the law, and the entire law must fall. This probably would create considerable chaos and uncertainty, because a number of states already have moved to implement the law and have offered insurance to people who were unable to get it or afford it prior to the law's enactment. However, such a decision also would end the legal, but not the political debate.
    • They could decide that the mandate can be severed from the rest of the law. The government argues that the mandate is inextricably entwined with two other provisions -- a prohibition on insurers denying coverage of preexisting conditions and charging higher premiums based on health status or gender. Without the mandate, the government predicts premiums would skyrocket and other market reforms would fail.
    • They could sever the mandate and the guaranteed issue and community rating provisions and decide that the rest of the law can function as Congress intended.
    • They could uphold the expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program.
    • They could strike down the Medicaid expansion as unconstitutional.
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