Today, June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the federal health reform law’s individual mandate, asserting that it is permissible under Congress’s taxing power. This element of the law was at the heart the legal challenge to the reform package.
Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed to the court by President George W. Bush, joined the left-leaning side of the court (Justices Kagan, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg) in the 5-4 decision that allows the the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative, to continue to be implemented in largely its original form. Because the mandate stands, the court did not need to decide on other parts of the law. The majority opinion noted, however, that they would not accept the mandate as valid under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Instead, they accept the mandate as a tax per Congress’s power to tax and spend.
Today’s ruling also sets limits on the other major question the court faced – the constitutionality of the law’s Medicaid expansion. The judges ruled that the expansion can indeed move forward, but struck down the provision that empowered the federal government to withhold existing Medicaid funds from a state if the state did not comply with the expansion.
Today’s ruling thrusts health care into the spotlight only five months before the November presidential election.