U.S. Health Care Reform Law Heads to High Court Showdown

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The U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court

Key elements of the U.S. Health Care Reform will go before the nation’s highest court next spring, and any decision could become an election year bombshell.

The United States Supreme Court announced 14 Nov. 2011, that it will hear oral arguments on a total of four specific questions raised in federal circuit court decisions that have split on the legality of the so-called individual mandate to purchase insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The health care reform law compels most private citizens to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty on their income taxes. This has become the key issue in critics’ nation-wide challenge to the health care reform law.

That insurance mandate requirement was struck down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The Obama administration appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The court is reviewing whether Congress has the power to compel nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty and whether the federal government’s effort to expand state Medicaid programs amounts to illegal coercion.

In a related issue, the National Federation of Independent Business was granted oral arguments on a finding in the same ruling that said although the mandate was unconstitutional, it can be severed, allowing the remainder of the reform law to stand. The NFIB wants entire law invalidated.

Additionally, the Supreme Court ordered arguments on the question of whether any challenge to the individual mandate can be entertained by a court now.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled that the mandate is a tax, because it is included in the IRS tax code, and therefore can’t be challenged in court until after 2014, when the tax penalties kick in for failing to buy insurance.

The high court also agreed to hear an appeal filed by 26 states that argues the health care reform law’s expansion of the Medicaid program amounts to illegal coercion by the federal government.

Some legal scholars speculate that the case involving the coercion argument is less likely to be hears by the Supreme Court because no appeals court has sided with the coercion argument.

The health care reform cases are likely to be argued sometime in March 2012, a Supreme Court spokesman said in posted on the court’s website.

Some Supreme Court observers say decisions for cases argued in the court’s spring term will likely be published by June. If so, the decision will land in the middle of the national debate during the run-up to the November 2012 presidential election.

11-393 Cert PetitionNFIB v. Sebelius (PDF) “The question presented is whether the ACA must be invalidated in its entirety because it is nonseverable from the individual mandate that exceeds Congress’ limited and enumerated powers under the Constitution”

11-400 Cert PetitionFlorida v. HHS (PDF) “Does the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that virtually every individual obtain health insurance exceed Congress’s enumerated powers and, if so, to what extent (if any) can the mandate be severed from the remainder of the Act?”

11-398 Cert Petititon: HHS v. Florida (PDF) – “Whether Congress had the power under Article 1 of the Constitution to enact the minimum coverage provision.” And, “Whether the suit brought by respondents to challenge the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act?”

Petition 11-400: Florida v. HHS – “Does Congress exceed its enumerated powers and violate basic principles of federalism when it coerces States into accepting onerous conditions that it could not impose directly by threatening to withhold all federal funding under the single largest grant-in-aid program, or does the limitation on Congress’s spending power that this Court recognized in South?”

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