Supreme Court to Hear Health Care Cases

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The Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the sweeping health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama.

The Justices made their announcement in a brief order issued Monday.

Oral arguments will likely be held in February or March, with a ruling by June, assuring the issue will become a hot-button political debate in a Presidential election year.

The high court agreed to hear two questions: whether the law’s key provision is unconstitutional, and if so, whether the law, with its 450 sections, must be scrapped. Five and a half hours of oral arguments have been scheduled.

The broadest challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act comes from a joint filing by twenty-six states, led by Florida.

At issue is whether the “individual mandate” requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance or face financial penalties is an improper exercise of federal authority. The states say that if that provision is unconstitutional, the entire law must go.

Joining Florida in the challenge are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Virginia and Oklahoma filed separate challenges.

Three federal courts have found the PPACA constitutional, while another said it is not. That split all but assured the Supreme Court would step in and decide the matter. Florida and other Republican-led states urged the high court to intervene. The states say people cannot be forced to buy insurance, a “product” they may neither want nor need.

The Justice Department countered the states’ argument by saying that since every American will need medical care, people do not “choose” to take part in the health care market.

The coalition of states is asking the court to decide three fundamental questions:

  • Whether the law must fail because the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
  • Whether states can be forced to expand their share of Medicaid costs and administration, with the risk of losing that funding if they refuse.
  • Whether state employees can receive a federally mandated level of health insurance coverage.

The cases accepted Monday are Dept. of Health and Human Services v. Florida (11-398); NFIB v. Sebelius (11-393); and Florida v. HHS (11-400).

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