The US Supreme Court has ruled President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform act constitutional. The court upheld a core requirement known as the “individual mandate” that Americans buy insurance or pay a fine.
Of the nine justices on the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote was decisive in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of the law. He surprised observers by joining the court’s four more liberal members in the key finding and becoming the swing vote. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, frequently the swing vote, joined three more conservative members in a dissent and read a statement in court that the minority viewed the law as “invalid in its entirety.”
The court’s decision is a crucial milestone for the law, allowing almost all of its far-reaching changes to roll forward. Several of its notable provisions have already taken hold in the past two years, and more are imminent. Ultimately, it is intended to end the United States’ status as the only rich country with large numbers of uninsured people, by expanding both the private market and Medicaid.
In addition to the individual mandate, the Supreme Court was asked to consider another part of the law that deals with the expansion of Medicaid, a government healthcare program for low-income citizens.The court ruled to limit that provision but did not strike it down altogether.
Although many conservatives were stung by the ruling, it did have the potential to restrain Congress in in the longer term. The restriction of the Medicaid expansion could limit the federal government’s ability to alter other federally financed state programs. Furthermore, by ruling that the individual mandate was permissible only as a tax – and not as a regulation of commerce – the court may have set the stage for challenges to other laws under the commerce clause of the constitution.
Obama said the ruling was a victory for the American people, and promised to implement it and improve upon it going forward.”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,” Obama said at the White House.
However, the political fight over health care remains far from over as Republicans reaffirmed their campaign to repeal the law. “Obamacare was bad policy yesterday; it’s bad policy today,” said Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, in remarks before the Capitol building shortly after the ruling was announced. “Obamacare was bad law yesterday; it’s bad law today.”
The healthcare law, known formally as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is the biggest overhaul of the $2.6 trillion healthcare system since the 1960s. The court’s decision largely vindicates a sweeping attempt to fix a system that, while representing nearly 18 percent of the economy, leaves 16 percent of Americans uninsured, a failure that sets the United States apart in the industrialized world.