Health Care at SCOTUS Recap



Oral arguments in what could be the most historic Supreme Court case of the 20th century have concluded, but the deliberations are just beginning. We must now anxiously wait for the Court to hand down its decision, which is expected this summer.

Audio recordings from the courtroom have been released, and the political pundits have weighed in—but we should be wary of assuming what conclusion the justices will reach regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday, the justices heard arguments on whether they could even consider the constitutionality of the individual mandate now, since a longstanding law called the Anti-Injunction Act bars hearings on tax-related issues until that tax has actually been levied, and the penalties for failing to buy insurance do not go into effect until 2014. Although the Court continued to hear arguments on the law’s merits through Wednesday, it is still entirely possible that the Court will rule that the Anti-Injunction Act applies, which would mean challenges to the individual mandate are not yet ripe for review. That being said, court watchers tend to agree that the justices will likely do the opposite and proceed with a ruling on the merits.

On Tuesday, lawyers debated the constitutionality of the minimum coverage requirement, bringing into question the scope of the federal government’s power in the Commerce Clause. The consensus from Tuesday’s arguments appears to be that the individual mandate is in trouble, but again, nothing is certain.

On Wednesday morning, the question at hand was whether part or all of the law should be struck down if the individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional. In other words, is the mandate severable or not severable from other provisions in the law? Wednesday afternoon was devoted to arguments about the constitutionality of the Medicaid expansion, which is expected to extend health coverage to 16 million people.

From the very first days when the ACA was challenged, it seemed that the Obama Administration was caught in a catch-22—and this week’s Supreme Court hearings, particularly the skepticism with which the conservative justices viewed the Administration’s arguments, confirmed just that. The law does not create a single-payer public health care system because of political calculations that were made to secure its passage.  So to pragmatically reform our broken health care system without making it completely public, legislators approved the individual mandate, which will achieve the same goal of making coverage more affordable to more Americans, while also maintaining the integrity of the private market. But the circumvention of one hot-button issue has only brought criticism of the solution.

Fundamental questions about federal authority and individual liberty are at the heart of this debate, but so is the reality that millions of people deserve affordable health care. We must not forget what is at stake: As Rabbi Saperstein stated this week, “A mother should not have to choose between preventive health services and rent payment. A senior should not have to pay for costly prescription drugs and worry about depleting his or her savings. Lack of insurance should not prevent a child from maturing into a healthy adult.” These values—and Judaism’s emphasis on the importance of health care—continue to inspire our support for the Affordable Care Act, and we now look to the Supreme Court to uphold these values as well.

Keep checking RACblog for further analyses of the oral arguments, and don’t forget to visit the RAC’s health care resource page for more information about this historic case and the law.

Photo courtesy of Kaiserhealthnews.org

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Madison Arent

About Madison Arent

Madison Arent is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She is from Greenwood Village, CO and a graduate of Cornell University.

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