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Obamacare stands: Supreme Court upholds health care law, individual mandate
In a complicated decision, the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that President Obama's healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is constitutional.
The court had three intertwined issues to rule on that concerned the individual mandate, the requirement that all Americans purchase health care or pay a fee in their tax return. The court ruled that the mandate was a tax issue and thus constitutional, with chief justice John Roberts joining the liberal wing of the court to uphold the law.
According to the majority opinion, since individuals could choose to ignore the mandate and pay a tax, the penalty is an issue of taxation and thus constitutional.
The court did not agree that the federal government had a right to force an individual mandate, with a five justices stating that the commerce clause regulating interstate trade was not applicable. But according to the majority opinion, since individuals could choose to ignore the mandate and pay a tax, the penalty is an issue of taxation and thus constitutional.
"Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. … That, according to the Government, means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition — not owning health insurance — that triggers a tax — the required payment to the IRS." the opinion by Roberts reads in part.
"Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax."
In a separate issue with the law, the court's ruling limited the federal government's power to terminate states' Medicaid funds if they did not comply with the expansion of the program mandated under the Affordable Care Act.
"Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that States accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. 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," wrote Roberts.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the dissent on behalf of himself and the remaining conservative wing of the court, justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. According to SCOTUSblog, before reading it aloud (a symbol of strong disagreement) Kennedy opened with the statement that "In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety."
With the Supreme Court coming under heightened scrutiny in the wake of the controversial Citizens United ruling in 2010, Roberts, in casting a decisive vote against his ideological peers, seemed to have written his opinion in part to negate the argument that the body was becoming more politicized.
"Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices," he wrote.
The ruling, which totaled thousands of pages, caused a mad scramble as news media outlets rushed to interpret it. Fox News, CNN's website and CNN Headline News all mistakenly reported that the individual health care mandate had been struck down before issuing a correction. However, the goof went viral, as self-styled media critics tweeted screen shots of the erroneous headlines.