The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul in March 2012. The justices announced today that they will hear more than five hours of arguments from lawyers on the constitutionality of a provision at the heart of Obama’s healthcare initiative: the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.
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The 2010 healthcare overhaul bill aims to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans who are currently uninsured through an expansion of Medicaid.
“We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree,” said White House communications direct Dan Pfeiffer in a statement.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has called the law an “unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American,” adding that, “In both public surveys and at the ballot box, Americans have rejected the law’s mandate that they must buy government-approved health insurance.”
Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010, but only one of the four federal appeals courts that have considered the healthcare overhaul have rejected even one part of the law. The Atlanta federal appeals court said Congress exceeded its power under the Constitution when it adopted the mandate, while the federal appeals court in Cincinnati held up the entire law, as did appellate judges in Washington, D.C.
Supreme Court Justices will not only decide whether the law’s central mandate is constitutional, but whether the rest of the law can take effect even if the central mandate is found to be unconstitutional. The law’s opponents believe the whole thing should be thrown out if the central mandate falls.
The Obama Administration says most of the law could still function without the central mandate, but says that requirements that insurers cover anyone and not set higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions are inextricably linked with the mandate and shouldn’t remain in place without it.
The Supreme Court will also look at the expansion of the joint federal-state Medicaid program that provides healthcare to poorer Americans. Roughly half of all states think the law goes too far in coercing them into participating by threatening to cut off federal money, and that the program and its requirement that employers offer health insurance violate the Constitution.
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In the face of so many objectors, the administration agreed to seek a prompt Supreme Court review of the healthcare overhaul, though it could have delayed the court’s consideration until after the 2012 election.