Affordable Care Act & Supreme Court

November 27, 2011 by staff 

Affordable Care Act & Supreme Court, President Obama’s controversial health care law is constitutional, Athens legal experts say, but they’re not sure how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on it next year.

Supreme Court justices said earlier this month that they’ll take up a lawsuit filed by 26 mostly Republican state attorneys general, including Georgia’s Sam Olens, seeking to strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled part of the law unconstitutional, but two other federal courts have upheld it and one threw out a similar lawsuit on technical grounds.

The Supreme Court will hear an unusual five-and-a-half hours of oral arguments on the law in March — an hour is usually alloted — and rule in June on the Atlanta lawsuit.

The court has four options, said Elizabeth Leonard, a health care policy expert at the University of Georgia School of Law. It can uphold the law. It can strike down only the individual mandate, the requirement that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty. It can strike down the whole law. Or it can refuse to rule because the individual mandate doesn’t kick in until 2014, so no one has paid the penalty yet, she said.

While opponents say Congress can’t force people to buy something, the law’s supporters say the Constitution allows Congress to regulate interstate commerce and provide for the country’s general welfare.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate, Leonard predicted a “death spiral” of skyrocketing insurance costs.

“The problem is, it creates an incentive for people to wait until they get sick to get health insurance,” she said. “It’ll get more expensive and, eventually, it won’t be affordable for anybody.”

The conventional wisdom is that the high court will uphold the law, although it’s an unprecedented expansion of congressional power, Leonard said.

“My opinion doesn’t matter much, but I think there is a very, very strong strong case” in favor of the law, said Dan Coenen, the law school’s associate dean. “The wrinkle is, no case quite like this has ever been decided.”

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