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The Supreme Court and the Health-Care Law

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Nov 16, 2011

How to understand what the Supreme Court will look at when they decide whether parts of the health-care act are constitutional?

In an excellent interactive graphic, the Washington Post identifies the issues that Supreme Court will consider:

  • Individual mandate: Requiring most Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
  • Medicaid expansion: Mandating extra state Medicaid spending for expanded coverage.

Formally called Florida v. Dept. of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400, the case is also known as the multi-state suit because 26 states are involved with challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  March oral arguments have a 5 1/2 hour Supreme Court slot rather than the traditional single hour.

    These health-care law issues have also been challenged in the courts but will not be considered this year by the Supreme Court:

    • Employer mandate: Requiring firms employing 50 or more to provide health insurance or pay a penalty.
    • Health benefits exchanges: Requiring states to establish their own insurance markets or to let the federal government set one up for them in order to supplement existing markets.

    The Economic Lesson

    Hoping to promote a single national economy, the framers of the Constitution said that the Congress has the power to, “regulate Commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes.” However, since 1824, the Supreme Court has had to define “commerce.”

    Now again, for health care, the commerce clause has played a leading role in determining Congressional power. So far, lower courts’ opinions have varied about whether the “commerce clause” facilitates or prohibits Congressional health-care legislation.

    Here, in an econlife post, you can see historic definitions of the “commerce clause.”

    An Economic Question: How can opponents and supporters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act each use the “commerce clause” to support their position?

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