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Supreme Court rules on Affordable Care Act

Updated: Thursday, June 28 2012, 05:58 PM CDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld virtually all of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul, including the hotly debated core requirement that nearly every American have health insurance.

The 5-4 decision meant the huge overhaul, still taking effect, could proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care.

The ruling hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in approving the plan. However, Republicans quickly indicated they will try to use the decision to rally their supporters against what they call "Obamacare," arguing that the ruling characterized the penalty against people who refuse to get insurance as a tax.

Obama declared, "Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country." GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney renewed his criticism of the overhaul, calling it "bad law" and promising to work to repeal it if elected in November.

Breaking with the court's other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Roberts explained at length the court's view of the mandate as a valid exercise of Congress' authority to "lay and collect taxes." The administration estimates that roughly 4 million people will pay the penalty rather than buy insurance.

Even though Congress called it a penalty, not a tax, Roberts said, "The payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation."

Roberts also made plain the court's rejection of the administration's claim that Congress had the power under the Constitution's commerce clause to put the mandate in place. The power to regulate interstate commerce power, he said, "does not authorize the mandate. "

Stocks of hospital companies rose after the decision was announced, while shares of insurers fell sharply. Shares of drugmakers and device makers fell slightly.

The justices rejected two of the administration's three arguments in support of the insurance requirement. But the court said the mandate can be construed as a tax. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," Roberts said.

The court found problems with the law's expansion of Medicaid, but even there said the expansion could proceed as long as the federal government does not threaten to withhold states' entire Medicaid allotment if they don't take part in the law's extension.

The court's four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Kennedy summarized the dissent in court. "In our view, the act before us is invalid in its entirety," he said.

The dissenters said in a joint statement that the law "exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying non-consenting states all Medicaid funding."

In all, the justices spelled out their views in six opinions totaling 187 pages. Roberts, Kennedy and Ginsburg spent 51 minutes summarizing their views in the packed courtroom.

After the ruling, Republican campaign strategists said Romney will use it to continue campaigning against "Obamacare" and attacking the president's signature health care program as a tax increase.

"Obama might have his law, but the GOP has a cause," said veteran campaign adviser Terry Holt. "This promises to galvanize Republican support around a repeal of what could well be called the largest tax increase in American history."

Democrats said Romney, who backed an individual health insurance mandate when he was Massachusetts governor, will have a hard time exploiting the ruling.

More than eight in 10 Americans already have health insurance. But for most of the 50 million who are uninsured, the ruling offers the promise of guaranteed coverage at affordable prices. Lower-income and many middle-class families will be eligible for subsidies to help pay premiums starting in 2014.

There's also an added safety net for all Americans, insured and uninsured. Starting in 2014, insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage for medical treatment, nor can they charge more to people with health problems. Those protections, now standard in most big employer plans, will be available to all, including people who get laid off, or leave a corporate job to launch their own small business.

Seniors also benefit from the law through better Medicare coverage for those with high prescription costs, and no copayments for preventive care. But hospitals, nursing homes, and many other service providers may struggle once the Medicare cuts used to finance the law really start to bite.

Illegal immigrants are not entitled to the new insurance coverage under the law, and will remain one of the biggest groups uninsured.

"So in the end, the Affordable Health Care Act survives largely unscathed. But the court's commerce clause and spending clause jurisprudence has been set awry. My expectation is that the setbacks will be temporary blips, not permanent obstructions," Ginsburg said in a statement she, too, read from the bench.

In the courtroom Thursday were retired Justice John Paul Stevens and the wives of Roberts, Alito, Breyer, Kennedy and Thomas.

--

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Charles Babington, Jessica Gresko, Jesse J. Holland and David Espo contributed to this report.Supreme Court rules on Affordable Care Act


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