A Landmark Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court says the health care law is constitutional

June 29, 2012

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that President Obama's Health Care Reform law was Constitutional.

On Thursday, more than 1,000 people gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to hear the Court’s decision about President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) states that all Americans must have health insurance or else pay a penalty. Lawyers representing 26 states and others challenged that law. They argued their case before the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court. They said that the law forced people to buy something that they did not want, and that was unconstitutional. But on June 28, the Supreme Court ruled that PPACA did not violate the Constitution. States and individuals must abide by the health care law by 2014.

The Supreme Court is made up of nine justices, or judges. John G. Roberts is the Chief Justice. He sided with four other justices for a majority opinion. They ruled that the health care act’s requirement that certain people pay a penalty was a tax. They said that the Constitution permits such a tax.  “It is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” wrote Roberts in the majority opinion.

The nine justices of the Supreme Court voted on the law. Chief Justice John G. Roberts (center) sided with four other justices for a majority opinion.
The nine justices of the Supreme Court voted on the law. Chief Justice John G. Roberts (center) sided with four other justices for a majority opinion.

Two Parts of the Law

The law has two important parts that impact people and the government. The first part of the law is called the “individual mandate.”  The individual mandate requires every United States citizen to buy health insurance. People who choose not to have health insurance have to pay a penalty. This is the part of the law that the Court said is constitutional because the penalty is a tax. Under the Constitution, Congress has the right to enforce and collect taxes.

The second part of the law deals with a government program called Medicaid.  Medicaid provides health care to people who need financial help or have certain disabilities. Along with the federal government, states pay part of the cost of Medicaid for their residents. Under PPACA, the federal government would stop giving Medicaid money to states that did not agree to expand Medicaid to cover more people. The Court said this part of the law was unconstitutional. Congress can expand Medicaid, but it cannot punish states for not expanding coverage.

A Big Decision

The health care law has both supporters and critics. A recent Pew opinion poll said that 48% of Americans disapproved of the law. Supporters say the law will help make health insurance affordable for everyone. Critics say the law will cost insurance companies money and will raise health care costs.

The Supreme Court ruling is considered a win for President Obama in this election year. He pushed through the health care law and is pleased with the Court’s decision.  “The highest Court in the land has now spoken,” Obama said in a speech at the White House. “Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law.”

What Does It Mean?

The law impacts businesses, doctors, insurance companies and families in different ways. The law won’t take full effect until 2014, and it may have a bumpy road along the way.

Mitt Romney is running for President against Obama. Romney says that if elected, he will repeal, or cancel, the law. He said it “raises taxes on the American people.”  The Court, Romney told supporters, “did not get the job done.”

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