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US Supreme Court upholds most parts of Obama’s landmark healthcare law

The decision is seen as a big victory for the Obama administration and will theoretically allow healthcare coverage for more than 30 million Americans.

Image: Matt Rourke/AP/Press Association Images

THE UNITED STATES Supreme Court has upheld a major part of President Barack Obama’s historic healthcare law saying that the requirement that most Americans have health insurance is constitutional.

The Supreme Court decision is being announced this morning in Washington DC with reports from the courtroom so far that it ruled 5 to 4 in favour of the individual mandate which requires that most Americans must obtain health insurance or else pay a financial penalty.

The court also upheld the requirement on insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and effectively stated that there must be no lifetime limits on insurance coverage.

The most significant part of the law that was struck down by the court was the Medicaid programme for those who are less well-off. The court ruled that the requirement that individual states expand the coverage of Medicaid for the poor was not constitutional.

The court’s Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal associate justices in the court in voting in favour of the mandate, writing the majority opinion.

The four dissenting judges were the three conservative associate justices and the perceived centrist Anthony Kennedy.

The ruling hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in approving the plan as many in opposition to the law, including the current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, argued.

Republicans indicated they will try to use the decision to rally their supporters against the law which they and many commentators have dubbed ‘Obamacare’ arguing that the ruling characterised the penalty against people who refuse to get insurance as a tax.

Obama declared: “Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country.”

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Romney renewed his criticism of the overhaul, calling it “bad law” and promising to work to repeal it if he is elected in November.

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Breaking with the court’s other conservative justices, Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

Roberts explained at length the court’s view of the mandate as a valid exercise of Congress’ authority to “lay and collect taxes.” The administration estimates that around four million people will pay the penalty rather than buy insurance.

Even though Congress called it a penalty, not a tax, Roberts said that for all intents and purposes it was a tax: “The payment is collected solely by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) through the normal means of taxation.”

At the same time, Roberts also made plain the court’s rejection of the administration’s claim that Congress had the power under the Constitution’s commerce clause to put the mandate in place.

The power to regulate interstate commerce power, he said, “does not authorise the mandate. ”

The court found problems with the law’s expansion of Medicaid but said the expansion could proceed as long as the federal government does not threaten to withhold states’ entire funding allotment if they don’t take part in the extension of the law.

Kennedy summarised the dissent in court saying: “In our view, the act before us is invalid in its entirety,” he said.

The dissenters said in a joint statement that the law on whole “exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying non-consenting states all Medicaid funding.”

More than eight in 10 Americans already have health insurance. But for most of the 50 million who are uninsured, the ruling offers the promise of guaranteed coverage at affordable prices.

Lower-income and many middle-class families will be eligible for subsidies to help pay premiums starting in 2014.

The significance of the ruling meant that there was huge media interest in the result as it broke earlier today.

So keen were news outlets to get the verdict out as it was being simultaneously delivered by the court that one of them, CNN, initially misreported the ruling:

US Supreme Court upholds most parts of Obama’s landmark healthcare law
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  • CNN incorrectly reports the verdict

  • CNN corrects itself

- with reporting from AP

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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