Supreme Court Upholds Key Part of Obama Health Law

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A person carries an American flag while marching in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Getty) A person carries an American flag while marching in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Getty)

The Supreme Court has upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Obama described the 5-4 decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act as a victory for “people all over this country.” The historic overhaul that aims to cover more than 30 million uninsured Americans will go into effect over several years.

Acknowleging the law had been the source of rancor among parties, Obama said shortly after the decision that he didn't push for the health care reform because it was politically popular.

"I did it because I believed it was good for the country," he said.

The court said the expansion of Medicaid could proceed as long as the federal government does not penalize states if they don't participate in the program by taking away their existing funding. 

The court's four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney vowed to repeal so-called Obamacare if he is elected president, saying the “job killer” policy puts “the federal government between you and your doctor.”

 “If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re going to have to replace President Obama.” he said.

The main goal of ACA has been to reduce the number of uninsured, make health care more affordable and cut down on overall health care costs.

While the focus has been on the constitutionality of the individual mandate — that is mandating people to buy health insurance —  that is just one part of the health care law. The law would also expand Medicaid, provide insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, create health care exchanges — a marketplace where people without insurance or too poor to buy it on their own can pool their purchasing power — and extend family coverage for young adults up to age 26.

The arguments in March marked out potential legal signposts for the three paths. The justices heard questions on terminology — in other words is “Obamacare” a “tax.”

A 1876 law called the Anti-Injunction Act prevents people from challenging the constitutionality of a tax before the tax has been collected. The ACA does not kick in until 2014 and the first tax returns that would reflect penalties as a result of ACA wouldn’t be until 2015, so it would be too early for the court to hear a case on ACA.

The argument for striking down the individual mandate hinged on whether the federal government could force people to buy health insurance. The government argued health care is different from any other product, and requiring people to buy it would not open the door for Congress to require the purchase of other goods and services. Using the commerce clause, the government’s lawyer argued Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and could force people to purchase health insurance in the name of regulating such commerce.

The lawyer representing Florida and 25 other states challenging the law argued if the federal government could force citizens to purchase insurance, it could then force people to buy anything.

The lawyer for the states also argued that if you strike down the individual mandate — the pillar on which all the other ACA reforms stand — the court should strike down the entire act, arguing it would be a “hollowed-out shell” without the mandate. The justices questioned lawyers on whether the individual mandate was “severable” from the other provisions of ACA.

After Thursday, the Supreme Court won’t meet again until October.

With the Associated Press


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Comments [17]

Howard Weinberg from New York City

Cutting away from NPR Health Care coverage by Julie Ravner so Andy Borowitz can start the Lopate show? Really? And then after the President speaks briefly, going back to Borowitz when special coverage is obviously called for? Really? Oh well, thanks for removing the temptation to listen longer.

Jun. 28 2012 12:52 PM
Bernadette from Rockaway, NJ

RE- the coverage on the Brian Lehrer show.

I appreciate the coverage of the Supreme Court decision and its importance.
But I was looking forward to the final segment of his online dating series.

If you had to cancel, or POSTPONE it, it should have been mentioned as to when he would get to the topic.

A lot of us already knew that the decision would be announced, and savvy people already guessed that it would preempt the prev. planned show, but
I still would have liked your producers to have had a backup date as to when it would be broadcast. that could have been mentioned on the show.

I am busy and I had planned to listen. I can't listen every day. If you made an announcement, it would have helped with planning

Jun. 28 2012 12:30 PM

Hell yeah! Republicans got dissed by their own court and as a bonus the corporate media bungled the biggest story of the election.

Jun. 28 2012 12:13 PM
Carlos from Manhattan

Roberts is the new Souter?

Jun. 28 2012 11:35 AM
janet from manhattan

The previous caller says he can avoid certain taxes by not buying a home, etc. but he is paying the tax in his rent because his landlord factors that tax into his rent. Just as health insurance costs factor in the costs of the uninsured who use emergencies rooms, etc.

Jun. 28 2012 11:35 AM
mom_from_Brooklyn from Brooklyn NYC

Dalia - NPR/WNYC keeps you informed of accurate /actual news. CNN feeds the public candy and moves to the right to keep viewers/clicks up. Why do you think Congress wants to end funding - having the public informed of the truth is bad for business in DC.

Thomas Petrie - I understand your misgivings about folks not caring for themselves, but for your story there are others with personal stories that would argue this law (like the MA law) will help all. At 23 I fell ill and had a bad health insurance policy that denied much of the hospital bill. As an insured person I was expected to pay & had to put payments on my high interest Credit Cards to avoid collections agencies coming after me & a bad credit rating. At the same time, a 'temp' worker in my office, same age, fell ill and actually spent a few days in MA General. Because she had no insurance her bill for thousands was 'excused' and she paid nothing! Folks in that state knew about this and they took advantage and as I understand it, with Romney-care, this is no longer happening in MA (despite all his denials, Mitt's MA law is the basis for the Federal law that has been upheld). We all pay in the end, but now it may be more difficult for dead beats to game the system. The law is not perfect, but I do hope that it helps level the playing field.

Jun. 28 2012 11:32 AM
Marcia from Brooklyn

I am far to the left of most of your guests on this segment. ANd I am not surprised at all by Chief Justice Roberts opinion. Of course the man that upheld Citizens United would write an opinion that does not address restrict th corporate health care industry and rather confuse the issue with the semantics of taxation, leaving this bill open to challenge, once these penalities or taxes kick in in 2015. This act with so many important provisions, does force the people of the United States to become corporate health care company consumers and has failed those of us who have worked tirelessly for universal, single payer health care. Prior to the Republican far right radicalization of Congress, which began in the 1980's and saw fruit began to mature in 1992 with the election of the nClintons and their attempts at initiating health care reform, the Congress, including 48 Senators and the Office of Management and Budget had written and spoken extensively that a single payer system is the most efficient, and cost effective and most easily implemented, (through a trust, much as medicare is administered). Thus, to have this health care bill upheld without an actual look at the specifics of health care in this country, is for me one more major erosion of democratic processes that still remain in this country.

Jun. 28 2012 11:31 AM
Eric McClure from Park Slope

CNN explained:


Jun. 28 2012 11:24 AM
Tedla Asfaw

Medicare for All. Health is the business of all people. This is indeed historical decision. Let us unite and move on !!!!

Jun. 28 2012 11:24 AM
Thomas Petrie from Stony Point, NY

I have to say I am very disappointed in this ruling because I don't want to be forced to pay fines (400/1000/2,500 for 2014,15,16) for NOT spending $12,000 per year for coverage my family CAN NOT use! Why can't we use it? Because we practice natural medicine--no drugs in most cases, and naturopathic and complementary medical specialists typically do NOT take insurance! So why should health-conscious folks with NO medical concerns and who practice extensive preventative medical programs (all organic diets, run regularly, meditate, regular sunshine, etc.), be forced to pay for something that provides very little--if any benefit? Why indeed.

As a nutritionist, I know something about preventative medicine and my medical bills are easily less than $500 every ten years, or $50 per year. Why should I subsidize the average lazy, overweight and health "unconscious" Americans for their failure to take their health seriously? After all, it is their way of living that is forcing me and my family to pay a minimum of $1,000 per month and that doesn't even include dental care!

Jun. 28 2012 11:06 AM
Josh Neufeld from Brooklyn

Congrats to Brian for NOT being on vacation during important breaking news event!

Jun. 28 2012 10:58 AM
hmi from Brooklyn

Seems like fairly reasonable constitutionalism to me, insofar as the commerce power was explicitly denied as a source for the mandate. That's also an interesting shot across the bow of the Great Ship of Statism, that the present court will not uphold similar sorts of legislation (and might even be expected to eventually roll back some legislation that already exists).

Now that this particular deck is cleared, we'll have years of entertainment as the bureaucracies turn the 1500 pages of "suggestions" that is the ACA into, you know, regulations (formerly known as laws). Meanwhile, there is no reason whatsoever to expect even the slightest effect on health care costs that steadily rise by 9% per annum.

Jun. 28 2012 10:53 AM
Ed Resor from Upper Westside of Manhattan

There is hope for this country yet!

As someone who will soon be going on Medicare and whose only threat to my personal way of life and my family is a financially catastrophic illness, I am glad to see legal support for a program that helps the uninsured and provides a real chance for the first $400 million of real savings for Medicare.

$400 million is tiny, but at least it is going in the right direction. It is a lot compared to the $727.3 billion 2009-2018 of cost increases passed by Republicans under Bush for drug purchases with special protection of pharmaceutical companies from the potential savings on medicines from fair negotiation of prices by their largest customer, the U.S. taxpayer.

I hope after the election we will get some cooperation from the Republican Congress for serious cost reduction plans for Medicare and Medicaid and private health insurance.

Jun. 28 2012 10:52 AM
Bobby G from East Village

Roberts saved himself. He still has a chance for the court to be reasonable rather than ideological during his tenure.

Jun. 28 2012 10:21 AM

Dewey defeats Truman!!!!

Jun. 28 2012 10:21 AM

This is why the media stinks!!!! WNYC is saying that the individual mandate was upheld, yet CNN is saying that it was struck down. Huh?

Jun. 28 2012 10:16 AM
dalia from new york

Hi - why is cnn saying the individual mandate was struck down?

Jun. 28 2012 10:15 AM

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