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William Temple, of Brunswick, Ga., waits outside the Supreme Court a landmark decision on health care on Thursday, June 28, 2012 in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
High court upholds Obama health law by 5-4 vote

First Published Jun 28 2012 07:32 am • Last Updated Jun 29 2012 01:05 pm

Washington » The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld virtually all of President Barack Obama’s historic health care overhaul, including the hotly debated core requirement that nearly every American have health insurance.

The 5-4 decision meant the huge overhaul, still taking effect, could proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care.

At a glance

Hospital stocks jump after health care ruling

Stocks of hospital companies rose sharply and insurance companies fell Thursday after the Supreme Court upheld a requirement that almost all Americans carry health insurance.

The stock of Hospital Corp. of America, the largest private hospital chain in the United States, rose a little more than 7 percent. Quest Diagnostics, which runs laboratories, rose almost 3 percent.

Insurance companies were down sharply as analysts rushed to sort out the ruling. UnitedHealth Group stock fell almost 3 percent, WellPoint 6 percent and Aetna 3.6 percent.

The broader stock market was down a little more than 1 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average, which was down about 100 points before the ruling came out at 10 a.m. EDT, was down 160 points after the ruling.

Stocks of the largest drug companies in the country were down but not heavily, in line with the broader market. Stocks of medical device makers were also down about the same as the broader market.

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The ruling hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in approving the plan. However, Republicans quickly indicated they will try to use the decision to rally their supporters against what they call "Obamacare," arguing that the ruling characterized 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." GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney renewed his criticism of the overhaul, calling it "bad law" and promising to work to repeal it if elected in November.

Breaking with the court’s other conservative justices, Chief Justice John 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 roughly 4 million people will pay the penalty rather than buy insurance.

Even though Congress called it a penalty, not a tax, Roberts said, "The payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation."

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 authorize the mandate. "

Stocks of hospital companies rose after the decision was announced, while shares of insurers fell sharply. Shares of drugmakers and device makers fell slightly.

The justices rejected two of the administration’s three arguments in support of the insurance requirement. But the court said the mandate can be construed 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," Roberts said.

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


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The court’s four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Kennedy summarized the dissent in court. "In our view, the act before us is invalid in its entirety," he said.

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

In all, the justices spelled out their views in six opinions totaling 187 pages. Roberts, Kennedy and Ginsburg spent 51 minutes summarizing their views in the packed courtroom.

The legislation passed Congress in early 2010 after a monumental struggle in which all Republicans voted against it. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Thursday the House will vote the week of July 9 on whether to repeal the law, though such efforts have virtually no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

After the ruling, Republican campaign strategists said Romney will use it to continue campaigning against "Obamacare" and attacking the president’s signature health care program as a tax increase.

"Obama might have his law, but the GOP has a cause," said veteran campaign adviser Terry Holt. "This promises to galvanize Republican support around a repeal of what could well be called the largest tax increase in American history."

Democrats said Romney, who backed an individual health insurance mandate when he was Massachusetts governor, will have a hard time exploiting the ruling.

"Mitt Romney is the intellectual godfather of Obamacare," said Democratic consultant Jim Manley. "The bigger issue is the rising cost of health care, and this bill is designed to deal with it."

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.

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THE RULING:

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care law, including the most disputed part: the mandate that virtually all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine. The mandate was upheld under the federal government’s power to levy taxes.

The ruling put some limits on the law’s plan to expand the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, a joint effort of the federal government and states. It says the U.S. government cannot threaten to withhold a state’s entire Medicaid allotment if it doesn’t participate in the expansion.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — to form the 5-4 majority.

THE CONTEXT

The decision affects nearly every American and marks a major milepost in a century of efforts to make health care available to all. The law is President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement and perhaps the most polarizing issue of his re-election campaign. His Republican rival Mitt Romney and GOP lawmakers have promised to repeal Obamacare.

WHAT NOW?

The 2010 health care law will continue phasing in as planned. It’s expected to bring coverage to about 30 million uninsured people, so that more than 9 in 10 eligible Americans will be covered.

Some parts are already in effect: Young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26. Insurers can’t deny coverage to children with health problems. Limits on how much policies will pay out to each person over a lifetime are eliminated. Hundreds of older people already are saving money through improved Medicare prescription benefits. And co-payments for preventive care for all ages have been eliminated.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Starting in 2014, almost everyone will be required to be insured or pay a fine. There are subsidies to help people who can’t afford coverage. Most employers will face fines if they don’t offer coverage for their workers. Newly created insurance markets will make it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy affordable coverage. And Medicaid will be expanded to cover more low-income people.

Insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging those people more. They won’t be able to charge women more, either. During the transition to 2014, a special program for people with pre-existing health problems helps these people get coverage.

An assortment of tax increases, health industry fees and Medicare cuts will help pay for the changes.

IS THE ISSUE SETTLED NOW?

Not necessarily. Although the court found it constitutional, the health care law still could be changed by Congress. Romney and Republican congressional candidates are campaigning on promises to repeal it if elected in November.

Some parts of the law are popular, but others — especially the mandate that virtually everyone have insurance coverage — are not.

Also, an estimated 26 million people will remain without health coverage once the law is fully implemented, including illegal immigrants, people who don’t sign up and elect to face the fine instead, and those who can’t afford it even with the subsidies.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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