President Barack Obama’s healthcare law has been upheld by the US Supreme Court today in a 5-4 ruling. Commentators and media experts around the world say this is a triumph in an election year for the Democrats and a serious setback for the Republicans. Obama’s healthcare law has been described as the most sweeping change in America’s healthcare system in over fifty years.

This means that Congress is authorized to impose taxes, and the Federal Government can insist that the majority of Americans must make sure they have health insurance coverage by 2014 – if they don’t, they will have to pay a levy (tax).

Republicans believe the mandate is an example of ‘nanny-state government’, where the state moves into the private lives of individual citizens and takes away their right to choose.

A Supreme Court Majority, albeit a thin one (5-4), ruled that Congress’ power to tax people takes priority over individual choices in this case. The issue has divided the country, and so it seems, the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice, John Roberts wrote on behalf of the court’s majority:

“Requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

The other four justices who voted in favor, along with Roberts, were Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.. Those voting against were Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, Assistant to the President and White House Deputy Chief of Staff, wrote in a communiqué today:

“Today, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act ensures hard-working, middle class families will get the security they deserve and protects every American from the worst insurance company abuses. The Court has issued a clear and final ruling on this law.”

President Obama said today at the White House:

“The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law and we’ll work together to improve on it where we can.

What we won’t do – what the country can’t afford to do – is re-fight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were. With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward.”

The Supreme Court also said that Congress exceeded its authority in part of the new legislation that forces states to expand Medicaid health insurance programs for the poor so that currently uninsured people obtain coverage. It said that the federal government will not be able to withdraw existing Medicaid funds from states that do not adhere. The Court added that in order to do this, it was not necessary to bring down other parts of the law.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Act was signed in by President Obama in 2010. The new legislation found itself challenged in the courts of the country’s 50 states.

According to The Whitehouse today, the new ruling by the Supreme Court means that for America’s middle class:

  • Health insurance companies can no longer cancel people’s policies like they used to, or deny coverage
  • Health insurance companies will not be able to charge females more than males
  • Insurance companies will soon not be able to deny care or charge more for people with pre-existing conditions
  • Insurance companies will continue to provide preventive care services free of charge, such as wellness visits for the elderly and breast screening for women
  • Millions of Americans will receive a rebate by August 2012 because their insurance company overspent on directors’ bonuses or administrative costs
  • Prescription drugs savings amounting to $600 per senior for prescriptions will continue – 5.3 million seniors are benefiting from this
  • 6.6 million people aged between 18 and 26 will be able to stay on their family’s plan

Further reading:
“What is the Affordable Care Act?”

Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, President of the American Medical Association (AMA), said the new legislation is widening healthcare coverage, improving services for many with insurance, and reducing the burden of paperwork for healthcare professionals. (Link to article)

The USA spends 18% of its economy on healthcare, much more than any other developed nation – and 16% of its people have no insurance coverage. A large percentage of Americans have “inadequate cover”. In the United Kingdom, for example, about 9.5% of the economy is spend on healthcare, but everyone is covered.

Unlike other rich nations, the American system is a patchwork of restrictive government programs and private insurance.

Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (TX-26), Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and Chairman of the Congressional Health Care Caucus, commented on today’s ruling:

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is detrimental to our society, our economy, and to the future of health care in America. Since its inception we have seen the strain it has placed on our economy through its ever increasing price tag, provisions which discourage small businesses to hire, and higher costs, and excessive government regulations.

President Obama stated multiple times that the penalty associated with the individual mandate was not a tax; however, the Supreme Court today affirmed that indeed it was a tax. In fact, it is a tax increase and a very large tax on middle-class America. When millions are unemployed the last thing America needs is another tax.

This decision by the Supreme Court is paramount and signals to the House of Representatives that it is our responsibility to repeal this over burdensome law which increases taxes on middle class families, and replace it with common-sense policies that encourage economic growth and protect American’s access to care. The House has voted to repeal the legislation and will do so again next month.”

Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, said:

“This is an historic victory for individual liberty, states’ rights, and limited government. Today the Supreme Court made crystal clear that the federal government is more restrained than yesterday and yet, through a novel application of the facts, the Court did what Congress was afraid to do–called ObamaCare a tax on all Americans. This is particularly ironic since President Obama, himself, insisted this was not a tax.

The decision marks a turning point in constitutional history. The Supreme Court rebuked a runaway federal government that tried to hijack the Constitution by imposing an unprecedented requirement forcing Americans to buy a product against their will. In doing so, the Court dismantled the centerpiece of Obamacare – the federal government’s authority to compel Americans to purchase a product.

The Court also agreed that States are individual sovereigns that cannot be commandeered by the federal government. In this instance, by forcing States to expand Medicaid, the federal government tried to hold States hostage.

Our challenge to Obamacare was never about healthcare or insurance – it was about the rule of law and a fight against a federal government that continues to expand. In this respect, today’s decision was a total victory. As the federal government seeks to impose the remainder of ObamaCare, it must do so within the limits prescribed by the Constitution.

Although the individual mandate was ruled unconstitutional, the remainder of ObamaCare may be on life support – and we will continue our work to pull the plug on this unworkable and unpopular law. It is time for Congress to step in and end the Obamacare nightmare by repealing an unprecedented tax on all Americans.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist