The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the health-care initiative known as the Affordable Care Act from March 26 to 28 and is expected to make a decision in June.
The law, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in early 2010, aims to extend health insurance coverage to Americans through both the expansion of state Medicaid programs and the “individual mandate” provision, which would compel people to buy medical insurance or face a penalty.
“Congress has the authority to regulate activity that substantially affects interstate commerce, and Congress has chosen to regulate the interstate market in health insurance,” said law professor Leslie Griffin.
“If the mandate is a necessary means to Congress’s goals in health insurance regulation, it is constitutional.”
The case has woven its way through the lower courts and has involved more than two dozen lawsuits and appeals on its two-year journey to the Supreme Court.
In Florida, a district judge ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case and found the Affordable Care Act could stand without the mandate. Twenty-six states are now involved in the health care suit.
The Affordable Care Act prevents health insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. By forcing people to buy coverage, the individual mandate provision prevents people from abusing the system and buying coverage only when they become ill.
Medicaid expansion, another provision of the Affordable Care Act, requires all states to expand Medicaid coverage. The part being challenged is the requirement that states expand their Medicaid programs or lose federal funding.
Initially, the federal government would pay for costs associated with the expansion, but the financial burden would shift to the states over time. The states argue that the federally allocated amount for the expansion has been underestimated.
The court will determine whether the rest of the law can remain without the individual mandate.
College students in particular should be cognizant of the upcoming Supreme Court decision on health care and how it may affect them in the future, Griffin said.
“At the oral argument we were reminded that young people often don’t get insurance because they don’t realize they need it for themselves. But they may need it if a sudden illness or accident befalls them. And they may need it for their loved ones,” Griffin said.