How Will the Supreme Court Rule on Healthcare Reform?
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The ultimate issue that the Court is grappling with is the constitutional authority of the federal government to require individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. The arguments for both sides can be summarized as follows:
Those in favor of PPACA believe the mandate is a valid use of congressional power to regulate interstate commerce. This would mean that Congress has the authority to implement a tax or penalty to help pay for healthcare.
Those opposing the individual mandate believe the act of requiring individuals to purchase insurance exceeds Congress’s authority and would essentially open the door to allow Congress to require individuals to buy any type of good.
The oral arguments lasted for three days. Most agree that the Justices appeared skeptical that the mandate could be considered constitutional. Justice Scalia even went so far as to wonder if Congress has the constitutional authority to require everyone to purchase health insurance, can Congress also force all of us to buy broccoli, too?
The Issues at Stake
1. The Anti-Injunction Act ― This Act says that a tax cannot be challenged until it is actually paid. When PPACA was passed, supporters said that the penalty for not obeying the individual mandate was a “fine” and not a “tax.” However, the Administration reversed course during oral arguments, suggesting that the penalty is only a “tax” (and thus, the Court cannot rule on the individual mandate until 2014). If the Court agreed with this theory, it could have used it as a reason not to decide the entire case (leaving us with two more years of uncertainty). Interestingly, the Court rejected imposing the Anti-Injunction Act.
2. Tax vs. Fine ― The Obama Administration argued that the fine associated with the individual mandate is definitely a “tax” for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. However, the Administration later changed course and said it was a “tax,” which means the mandate would be constitutional. The Justices, however, didn’t seem to buy this argument.
3. Severability ― The authors of PPACA forgot to include a severability clause. Severability clauses are used to prevent an entire law from being struck down in the event one part of the law is found to be unconstitutional. Because it lacks a severability clause, the Justices could strike down PPACA altogether if they decide the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court will rule in June 2010, which will no doubt be a landmark decision. Most believe that the Court will take an all or nothing approach ― either PPACA (as a whole) will be constitutional and stand as-is or the Court will strike down the entire law.
How do you think the Justices will rule? Do you think PPACA will be ruled unconstitutional?
(by Sarah A. Bittner)