Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Reform Law

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On June 28, 2012, the last day of its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision on the constitutionality of the health care reform law. The Court upheld the entire law, holding that Congress acted within its constitutional authority when enacting the individual mandate. This means that the health care reform law will continue to be implemented as planned and provisions that are already effective will continue.

The Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Congress acted within its constitutional authority when enacting the individual mandate. In its ruling, the Court first concluded that the Commerce Clause did not give Congress the power to pass the individual mandate. The Court concluded that Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, but does not have the authority to compel it. The Court stated that “construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.”

However, the Court held that Congress had the power to enact the mandate under its authority to impose taxes. The majority of the Court agreed that the individual mandate’s penalty is essentially a tax that Congress can impose using its taxing authority. The Court held that “our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in [the individual mandate] under the taxing power, and that [the individual mandate] need not be read to do more than impose a tax. That is sufficient to sustain it.”

Because the Court upheld the individual mandate, it did not need to decide whether other provisions of the health care reform law were constitutional. One exception to this is a provision that required states to comply with the health care reform law’s new Medicaid eligibility requirements or risk losing their federal funding. The constitutionality of this provision was also before the Court. On that issue, the Court ruled that the provision is constitutional, but that Congress cannot penalize states that decide not to participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.

Future Implications

Because the individual mandate was upheld, all aspects of the health care reform law that have been implemented will remain in effect. Additionally, the remaining provisions of the health care reform law that are not currently in effect will continue to be implemented as planned. Most notably, beginning in 2014, all individuals will generally be required to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

Many of the health care reform law’s provisions require agency guidance to be implemented. The Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Treasury have been regularly issuing guidance to implement the health care reforms. These agencies will continue to promulgate regulations relating to the health care reform law, and employers and health plans will be required to comply with these to the same extent that they are required to comply with the various provisions of the health care reform law.

Although the Supreme Court held that the individual mandate is constitutional, opponents of the health care reform law may challenge other provisions using various legal arguments. If any further challenges arise, courts will address these accordingly.

Additionally, members of Congress have already introduced new legislation to amend or repeal various parts of the health care reform law, and likely will continue with this strategy. Each of these possibilities may have an impact on the health care reform law and its requirements in the future.

Additional resources

A copy of the Supreme Court’s decision is available at: www.supremecourt.gov/.  Looking for something to update your employees?  This Know Your Employee Benefits article offers employees insight into the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold health care reform legislation.  Feel free to hand out!

 

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