U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) became law on March 23, 2010.  The ACA created sweeping reform to the health care system in the United States.  The driving principles behind the ACA are to provide affordable health care to all Americans, reduce the growth of the health care costs and improve the health of our communities.  While most agree that the underlying principles of the ACA are fundamentally sound, not everyone agrees with the methodology used to achieve these goals.

Opponents of the ACA have questioned the constitutionality of the law.  Specifically, the challengers have argued that Congress does not have the authority to force Americans to buy health insurance.  Under the “individual mandate” provision of the ACA, nearly all United States residents will be required to maintain a minimum monthly level of health insurance coverage beginning in 2014.  If one fails to maintain the requisite coverage, he or she will be subject to a penalty that will be reflected in the individual’s federal tax return.  Opponents believe that this penalty is nothing more than an impermissible tax that further invalidates the ACA.

Disputes involving the legality of the ACA have sprung up in federal courts across the country and have finally culminated before the United States Supreme Court.  Last week, the Supreme Court Justices heard an unprecedented three days of oral arguments regarding the constitutional issues potentially impacting the legality of the ACA.  Last Friday, the Justices met to decide the fate of the ACA.  However, it will likely be several months before the Court’s decision is finalized in a formal written opinion.  Until then, we are left to speculate about the outcome based on the Justices’ questions and comments during oral arguments.

Popular opinion about which direction the Supreme Court will lean has teeter beck and forth like a seesaw.  Before the start of oral arguments, many believed that the individual mandate would withstand constitutional scrutiny.  However, the nature and scope of the inquiries from the traditionally conservative portion of the Court coupled with the lackluster arguments advanced by the Obama administration’s lawyer have caused many to believe that the individual mandate may be in serious trouble.  There is some consensus that Justice Kennedy’s vote will ultimately determine the fate of the ACA.  Yet, there is no consensus about which side Justice Kennedy will ultimately support.  This week’s oral arguments failed to shed light on Justice Kennedy’s position as his questions and comments seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of positions advanced on both sides of this dispute.

The Health Care Practice Group of Fraser Trebilcock will continue to monitor the status of this important case.  Once the Supreme Court’s opinion has been issued, Fraser Trebilcock will provide an in-depth analysis of how the ruling impacts our health care system.  In the interim, please do not hesitate to contact us regarding all of your health care law needs.  For more information visit www.fraserlawfirm.com or contact Lansing Attorney Mike James at 517.377.0823.

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