‘Obamacare’ Health Law Debated at US Supreme Court

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Protestors both for and against the PPACA in front of the Supreme Court.
Source: “Healthcare Demonstrations Outside of the Supreme Court,” www.latimes.com, Mar. 26, 2012

On Monday Mar. 26, 2012 the US Supreme Court began hearing the first of three days of arguments in a case against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) also known as “Obamacare.”

The lawsuit, Florida v. Sebelius, was brought by 26 states. The case centers on the constitutionality of the individual mandate portion of the PPACA which requires people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The court is expected to first determine whether or not the mandate can even be challenged before it takes effect in 2014. In addition, the court will hear arguments over the PPACA’s mandated expansion of Medicaid.

Three circuit courts of appeals decisions in 2011 found the PPACA to be constitutional. However, on Aug. 12, 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in Florida v. Sebelius that the insurance mandate of the PPACA was unconstitutional and in violation of Article I of the Constitution – the Commerce Clause. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court.

According to Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Attorney General who had brought a case against the PPACA which was dismissed on Sep. 8, 2011, “…the health-care law sacrifices the liberty of Americans… The power Congress claims it has to create the mandate and penalty has no principled limits: If the federal government can order a citizen to purchase a private product such as health insurance in the name of public policy, it can order us to buy anything.”

In a statement explaining why his state did not challenge the mandate, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray explained that he believed the challenge “lacks merit… for seventy years, the Supreme Court has read the Commerce Clause broadly to authorize Congress to address our most pressing national economic concerns.” He also noted that the health insurance mandate is not the first instance of government requiring private citizens to purchase a product. The Militia Act of 1792 required every “free able-bodied white male citizen” to obtain a “good musket or firelock.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the US Supreme Court has not struck down a major federal regulatory law on the ground that it exceeded congress’ authority since 1936. Landmark entitlement programs similar in scope to the PPACA such as the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Medicare Act of 1965 were both found to be constitutional by the US Supreme Court.

Health care is the largest industry in the United States with expenditures representing roughly 16.2% of the US economy.

Oral arguments end on Wed. Mar. 28, and a decision is expected by late June 2012.


Ariane de Vogue, “Supreme Court Health Care Challenge: What You Need to Know,” www.abcnews.go.com, Mar. 22, 2012

David G. Savage, “With Healthcare Law at Stake, Supreme Court Rolls Up Sleeves,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 26, 2012