The United States Supreme Court last week (March 26-28) heard oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Act). I have read some of the lower court decisions, briefs submitted by the parties to the litigation, and transcripts of the oral arguments. The following is my summary of one of the key issues that the Court must decide.
Congress passed the Act as a culmination of President Obama’s efforts to address the fact that millions of Americans do not have health insurance, and yet need and receive health care in emergency and other situations. To make the Act’s plan “work” at a reasonable cost, the Act requires that virtually all Americans have at least a minimum amount of health insurance—either through employer coverage, government provision, or individual purchase. This “minimum coverage” (or “individual mandate”) provision of the Act is being challenged as an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power.
Unlike state legislatures, the United States Congress only has authority to pass legislation in areas enumerated in Article I of the Constitution of the United States. Defenders of the Act argue that Congress is authorized by either the Commerce Clause and/or the Taxing Clause—both delineated in Article I—to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Opponents of President Obama’s legislation assert that its provisions exceed the constitutional parameters of these clauses. Because of inconsistent rulings by federal circuit courts of appeal, the question of the constitutionality of the Act has to be decided by the Supreme Court.
The outcome of these cases could have a dramatic impact on the future of the American health care system. I will keep readers informed about the Supreme Court’s decision and other pertinent developments.