Supreme Court begins hearings on Federal Affordable Care Act

Mar 26, 2012

An unprecedented three days’ worth of oral arguments is under way in the Florida-led challenge to the federal healthcare overhaul law.

 “We will hear argument this morning in case number 11-398. Department of Health and Human Services vs. Florida.”

The hearings kicked off Monday with the Supreme Court addressing the first question—can it even take up the case? At issue is a federal law that requires people to pay a tax before they can challenge it in court. Under the federal healthcare overhaul, people who fail to acquire health insurance can be fined. Lawyers for the federal government argue the fine is not a tax. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says that argument will backfire.

“Here’s why that’s important. Whether the federal government can force us to purchase a product simply by being alive…”

 Tuesday, the Supreme Court takes up the requirement that most Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty. The federal government argues it can do this under its taxing power, and claims that healthcare is a commercial activity—which it can regulate. But the state argues the mandate is unconstitutional. Again, Bondi:

 “ We anticipate the federal government will change their argument and argue for purposes of the mandate, that they can do this under their taxing power.”  

 Closely watching the case is the National Federation of Independent Businesses. NFIB’s Florida director Bill Herrle says his group wants the mandate thrown out. 

“It’s a big day for small business owners in America.”

Herrle says the requirement is anti-competitive and has added uncertainty to the business climate.

“If this is upheld, that uncertainty will continue. Because for most small business owners, when they put pencil to paper to try to calculate what that means to them, it’s still very much an unknown.”

Supporters of the law say it’s too late to turn back now, because many parts of the law have already gone into effect.

Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear Florida’s challenge to the Medicaid expansion. The program is administered by both the federal government and the state. Florida argues that the expansion is unfairly coercive, because the government is forcing states to add more people into the program. If state’s refuse, they can lose federal funding.