By Howard J. Franco, Jr., Esq. & Eric Brown, Esq. of Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP
A sharply divided United States Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. In a 5-4 decision primarily authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court held that the mandate for individuals to secure health care coverage or pay a penalty as part of their income tax obligations was a permissible use of Congressional authority under the taxation clause of the United States Constitution. National Federation of Independent Businesses, et. al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, 576 U.S. _____ (2012).
While the hotly contested case drew much public attention, the decisive vote and authorship of the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts will be long remembered. Under intense public scrutiny over the institutional role of the U.S. Supreme Court in recent weeks, Chief Justice Roberts wrote an opinion which contrasted with both his appointment by a Republican President and his clerkship for his predecessor, the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The role of Chief Justice Roberts in reaching this landmark decision will be debated by legal historians for many years to come.
In the lengthy opinion, Chief Justice Roberts explained that the legislation was not a proper exercise of authority under the Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause had been the primary argument in favor of the constitutionality of the legislation. Historically, the Commerce Clause has been the most expansive power Congress utilized to base groundbreaking legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the power of Congress to “lay and collect Taxes” provided the constitutional authority to uphold the mandate. As a tax for all practical purposes, it did not constitute a criminal penalty, but a means to secure funding for the legislation. The Court went on to clarify certain portions of Medicaid and its relationship to the states. Congress cannot reduce funding to the states as part of efforts to promote Medicaid expansion.
In upholding the law in its other respects, many of the reforms in progress will remain intact. This includes allowing parents to insure their children up to age 26 and elimination of monetary caps on insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is now the law of the land. The individual mandate goes into effect in 2014.
Nothing contained within this article should be considered the rendering of legal advice. Anyone who reads this article should always consult with an attorney before acting on anything contained in this or any other article on legal matters, as facts and circumstances will vary from case to case.