Day 2 of the Supreme Court ACA Hearings: Is the Coverage Mandate Constitutional?

by Rebecca Farley on March 27, 2012

Each day this week, the National Council brings you the latest news from the Supreme Court, which is hearing the historic case against the Affordable Care Act.

The second day of the Supreme Court hearings on the Affordable Care Act opened early with another round of protests by both supporters and opponents of the law. Today’s oral arguments in the Court centered around the most controversial component of the health reform law – its requirement that  all individuals purchase insurance.

The coverage mandate, as it is known, would impose a financial penalty on individuals who fail to purchase health insurance after the law goes into effect in 2014. Individuals can be insured in a variety of ways, including through their existing employer sponsored insurance, through one of the upcoming State Health Insurance Exchanges, or through a government program such as Medicaid. Lawyers for the health reform law today argued that Congress can require the purchasing of insurance because an individual’s decision to be insured or not insured affects the broader healthcare marketplace. The law’s challengers, on the other hand, made the case Congress cannot reasonably regulate “inactivity.”

Among reporters and legal experts who scored a seat in today’s hearings, the widespread consensus was that the Justices were skeptical of the arguments in favor of the mandate’s constitutionality. In particular, all eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is expected to be the swing vote in any 5-4 decision either for or against the mandate. Kennedy’s questions during the hearing indicated that he may not have been fully convinced by the government’s arguments – yet, many observers cautioned against reading too much into the questions as an indicator of how he may eventually vote.

The National Council has published a full analysis of the legal issues around the coverage mandate on our blog. Also on our blog, you’ll find a summary of the four issues at stake (http://mentalhealthcarereform.org/health-law-supporters-opponents-gear-up-for-supreme-court-hearing-in-march/), an analysis of the Anti-Injunction Act question (http://mentalhealthcarereform.org/decision-on-health-law-might-not-come-this-year-if-court-rules-coverage-mandate-a-%e2%80%9ctax%e2%80%9d/), an analysis of the Medicaid expansion question (http://mentalhealthcarereform.org/supreme-court-ruling-on-medicaid-could-affect-other-federal-state-programs-antidiscrimination-laws/), and an update from yesterday’s proceedings (http://mentalhealthcarereform.org/an-insider%e2%80%99s-update-from-today%e2%80%99s-supreme-court-hearing-on-the-affordable-care-act/).

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