The future of the national health care law is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices announced Monday that they will hear legal challenges to the law next March, and will rule on the matter in June. A Loyola law professor says there health care law could survive the test.
The justices have allotted five-and-a-half hours to oral arguments on national health care law. That’s an unprecedented amount of time – and a testament to the complexity and importance of the decision the justices must make. Two of those hours will focus on the core legal issue: Whether Congress can force all citizens to buy private health insurance.
“It’s the first time that Congress has required American citizens to engage in consumption. I call it a ‘consumption mandate,’” says Karl Manheim, who is a professor of constitutional law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "They’re forced to go out into a private market and buy a product or service that they may not want to buy. In fact, 50 million Americans are currently uninsured. 22 some are uninsured by choice, others because they can’t afford it. But in nearly all these cases, these persons are going to have to go out and spend upwards of $1,000 a month."
But Manheim notes that national health care costs top more than $2.5 trillion annually. He says he expects the justices will rule that Congress can use its power over interstate commerce to require citizens to buy health insurance — or pay a tax penalty.
“There may be other constitutional problems with the affordable care act, but the limit on Congress’ powers is not one of them," he says.
The high court says it will devote an hour and a half whether the rest of the health care law will fall if the insurance purchase mandate is unconstitutional. The remaining two hours of argument will focus on other issues - among them, whether expanding Medicare constitutes a penalty on the states. The justices will also decide whether lower courts should have reviewed the health care law before it took full effect.