Landmark US Health Care Law Faces Crucial Court Session

Posted March 27th, 2012 at 8:35 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether the key provision of President Barack Obama's historic heath care reform effort, the individual mandate, is permitted under the U.S. Constitution.

Under the law, nearly every American will be required to buy a health insurance plan beginning in January 2014, or face a financial penalty. Supporters of the provision say it is needed to spread the cost of health care among all Americans, especially healthy people who might otherwise not purchase insurance, to cover more than 30 million uninsured people.

But 26 states and a coalition representing small businesses will argue that Congress lacks the authority to force Americans to buy health insurance. Many businesses will also be fined if they do not offer health insurance to their employees.

The Obama administration argues Congress does have the authority under its Constitutional powers to regulate interstate commerce and levy taxes.

Tuesday's session is the the second of three days of oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act, the most the court has scheduled for a single issue since the 1960s.

The nine-member court spent Monday focusing on the technical question of whether a challenge to the law can be presented to the court prior to the law being fully implemented. Mr. Obama signed a bill in 2010, but key provisions of the law do not begin until 2014.

The Affordable Care Act is the most significant reform to the U.S. health care system in four decades and a key portion of Mr. Obama's domestic agenda. Derisively labeled “Obamacare” by opponents, it also bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or placing a cap on the benefits available to those with serious medical conditions.

As the arguments began Monday, scores of supporters of the legislation waved signs, sang and chanted “Support Obamacare” outside the Supreme Court. Fewer people opposed to the measure gathered, but some traveled from as far as California. VOA reporters at the courthouse said the two sides took part in impromptu debates, but that the scene remained peaceful.

The case comes before a divided bench made up of five justices appointed by Republican presidents and the rest appointed by Democrats

The court is expected to issue its decision in June.