By Kevin Yang
Among President Obama’s many actions, perhaps his most notorious and controversial one is his health care reform bill, known as the Affordable Care Act. Now, starting Monday, March 26, 2012, the bill will be reviewed by the one of the nation’s most venerable institutions, the Supreme Court.
The first thing the court will do is go through three days of hearings on the law itself. According to ABC News, the question of whether it is the appropriate time for the Supreme Court to take up the case is the first question that will be asked. This is an issue only because of the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act, which prevents lawsuits regarding bills with taxes that haven’t been paid yet. Since the individual mandate outlined in Obama’s bill, which requires all Americans to buy health insurance, does not start until 2014, there haven’t been any taxes yet. Thus, some people are able to argue that it is illegal according to US law for the Supreme Court to review Obama’s health care bill.
On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, the Supreme Court will address the most controversial part of Obama’s bill – the constitutionality of the individual mandate. If instituted, this individual mandate would force everyone to buy insurance, regardless of your ability to afford it. If someone does not purchase health insurance, that person will be punished by a fine. In fact, Obama himself spoke out against such an individual mandate during his 2008 campaign for the Democratic primaries.
Opponents to the individual mandate argue that such legislation would violate the basic principles of individual freedom and limited government. If the federal government has the power to force Americans to purchase health care insurance, then why couldn’t it force Americans to purchase every other good? Opponents to the mandate believe that it would make the government’s power effectively limitless.
On the other hand, proponents of the individual mandate argue that it would reap many benefits, most notably, a prevention of free riders in the health care system. The Christian Science Monitor notes that a free rider is someone who benefits from the health care system without actually paying for it. The problem with free riders is especially plaguing the health care system, as people who lack health insurance are still able to receive health care. Almost all health care providers are either unable or unwilling to turn people away. Consequently, the financial cost of these free riders lies on the shoulders of everyone else that pays health insurance. The CATO Institute finds that in 2001, the uninsured received $35 billion worth of care.
Despite the controversies surrounding the individual mandate, it is still expected to pass. The Republican American Action Forum and the Democratic Blue Dog Research Forum both released polls of former clerks of current justices, finding that a mere 35% of people thought that the individual mandate would be ruled unconstitutional. If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional and is taken out of the bill, it is likely that the rest of the Affordable Care Act would legally stand up to the Supreme Court.
Amidst the 2012 US presidential elections, this Supreme Court decision might be key in determining the next president. CBS News predicts that depending on if the bill is found to be constitutional or unconstitutional, democratic and republican voters would be more energized, respectively. This decision could indeed play a huge role in determining the United States’ next president, and as such, is one of the most important moments in our history.