The Supreme Court has upheld the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul — ruling in favor of the requirement that most Americans can be required to have health insurance, or else pay a penalty.
The decision means the historic overhaul will continue to take effect over the next several years, affecting the way countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care.
The ruling also hands President Barack Obama a campaign-season victory.
The court found problems with the law’s expansion of Medicaid. But even there, it said the expansion could proceed as long as the federal government does not threaten to withhold the entire Medicaid allotment to states if they don’t take part in the extension.
The court’s four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Chief Justice John Roberts in the outcome.
The Supreme Court began hearing the case on March 26, nearly two years to the day that President Obama signed the act.
The Court had four key issues to consider:
- Does the Supreme Court have the right to hear the case?
- Does Congress have the authority to compel people to buy health insurance?
- If the court strikes down one part of the law (specifically the individual mandate) does the whole law become invalid? If not, would other linked parts of the law have to be struck down as well?
- Arguments by the states against being required to expand Medicaid programs.
On the SCOTUS blog the court wrote “Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.”
From the SCOTUS Blog:
“In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters.
“Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.”
Alaska, which is among the states that sued over the constitutionality of the federal health care law, has yet to implement a health care exchange. The health department has hired a consultant to help design one, and that report is expected soon.
In Alaska there are approximately 125,000 residents that do not have insurance, which is about 18 percent of the state’s population.
Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is expected to take the report and the U.S. Supreme Court decision into consideration in deciding how to proceed on the health care exchange issue. Spokeswoman Sharon Leighow declined to comment about contingency plans before the court’s ruling.
Read the full Supreme Court ruling here.