The Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care law today in a splintered, complex opinion that gives Obama a major election-year victory.
Basically. the justices said that the individual mandate — the requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine — is constitutional as a tax.
Chief Justice John Roberts — a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush — provided the key vote to preserve the landmark health care law, which figures to be a major issue in Obama’s re-election bid against Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
The government had argued that Congress had the authority to pass the individual mandate as part of its power to regulate interstate commerce; the court disagreed with that analysis, but preserved the mandate because the fine amounts to a tax that is within Congress’ constitutional taxing powers.
The announcement will have a major impact on the nation’s health care system, the actions of both federal and state governments, and the course of the November presidential and congressional elections.
A key question for the high court: The law’s individual mandate, the requirement that nearly all Americans buy health insurance, or pay a penalty.
Critics call the requirement an unconstitutional overreach by Congress and the Obama administration; supporters say it is necessary to finance the health care plan, and well within the government’s powers under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
While the individual mandate remained 18 months away from implementation, many other provisions already have gone into effect, such as free wellness exams for seniors and allowing children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies. Some of those provisions are likely to be retained by some insurance companies.
Other impacts will sort themselves out, once the court rules:
— Health care millions of Americans will be affected – coverage for some, premiums for others. Doctors, hospitals, drug makers, insurers, and employers large and small all will feel the impact.
— States — some of which have moved ahead with the health care overhaul while others have held back — now have decisions to make. A deeply divided Congress could decide to re-enter the debate with legislation.
— The presidential race between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is sure to feel the repercussions. Obama’s health care law has proven to be slightly more unpopular than popular among Americans.