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The Real Legal Issues over Healthcare Law
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Three days have been allotted at the U.S. Supreme Court for arguments over the sweeping healthcare law of President Obama. At the heart of the historic hearings are real legal issues admitted by the Supreme Court that are four in number. The first and second days of hearing have been given to hearing a single issue each day, while the third date has been set for hearing two issues that are held to be sufficiently close for hearing together on the same day. The dates have been set on March 26, 27, and 28. While the nation waits to hear the decisions, here are the issues considered by the U.S. Supreme Court according to date:

Issue for March 26:

The issue to be decided is whether the constitutionality of the legal requirement of “get insurance or pay a penalty” should be decided upon now, or whether it should be decided only after the mandate comes into effect in 2014.


If the ‘penalty’ is seen as a true penalty, then the mandate in the healthcare law can be challenged now. However, if the ‘penalty’ is interpreted as a ‘tax’ then the Anti-Injunction Act bars challenges to the law until it comes into effect.

Until now the majority of decisions and opinions including that of a U.S. Appeals Court in Virginia and that of independent opinion of Supreme Court appointed consultant Robert Long hold that the “penalty” is a “tax” and therefore the mandate of “get insurance or pay a penalty” cannot be challenged before 2014.

Issue for March 27:

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The issue to be decided on March 27 is whether the Congress acted beyond its constitutional limits in adopting the mandate of “buy insurance or pay penalty” mandate.

The Obama administration holds that the Congress has the authority under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to pass the mandate for regulating interstate commerce and its power to tax.

States and business groups challenging the law hold the authority of the Congress and the federal government to regulate interstate commerce does not extend to compelling individuals to buy insurance at the threat of penalty. They argue that if someone chooses not to buy insurance, then that is ‘inactivity’ and cannot be regulated under the Commerce clause, because it is not commerce.

The challengers argue, once the Congress can validate that the Commerce clause extends to the authority of regulating commercial inactivity, then nothing prevents using the same principles to force American citizens to buy state owned products and services or pay penalty.

Issues for March 28:

The first issue to be tried is whether, if the ‘purchase or perish’ mandate was found unconstitutional, the entire law would fail to survive or whether parts of the law can still apply in isolation of the challenged mandate.

Opponents of the law say that the entire law must fail in absence of the constitutionality of the ‘purchase or perish’ mandate as it was integral to the law and forms its core. The Obama administration says, even if the questionable mandate is found unconstitutional, other parts of the law can survive.

The second issue is whether Congress had the authority to spend money for requiring states that they expand the ambit of state Medicaid healthcare programs for the poor and disabled to include every individual and able bodied citizen. And whether states could be compelled to do so, under the threat of losing federal funds, otherwise.

The cases to be heard together at the U.S. Supreme Court include: National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.


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