November 15, 2011 — The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it will review the legal challenges against the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) in early spring 2012, the New York Times reports. The court likely will hear arguments in March 2012. A decision is expected by the end of the court's term in late June, meaning the case will play out during the height of the 2012 presidential campaign (Liptak, New York Times, 11/14).
Four lawsuits challenging the law were presented to the justices, but the court selected only the multistate lawsuit filed by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business. The multistate suit is the only one to date in which a lower court has struck down part of the law -- in this case, the individual mandate (Totenberg/Rovner, "Shots," NPR, 11/14). The Supreme Court also announced it has accepted the Obama administration's petition to review the overhaul (New York Times, 11/14).
The high court asked lawyers to address legal questions pertaining to four issues. First, the court will consider the constitutionality of the individual mandate -- the requirement that all nearly U.S. residents obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. It also will consider the issue of "severability" -- whether one part of the law can be struck down without jeopardizing the entire law (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 11/14).
In addition, the court will review whether the suit is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits the court from hearing a suit until the plaintiffs can prove harm. In this case, it might mean the case could not be heard until 2015 -- after the individual mandate and, subsequently, the penalty for not obtaining health insurance, takes effect (Taylor, Kaiser Health News, 11/14).
In a surprise to lawyers on both sides, the court also agreed to hear arguments over whether the law's Medicaid expansion is constitutional. The law sets a national Medicaid eligibility income threshold of 133% of the federal poverty level. States cannot continue to receive Medicaid funding unless they meet the new requirement. Although the federal government initially will cover the cost of enrolling more beneficiaries in Medicaid, the states in the suit argue the requirement is "coercion" by the federal government (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/14).
Signaling the significance of the case, the justices scheduled five-and-a-half hours for oral arguments, far exceeding the typical hour they devote to most cases (New York Times, 11/14).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
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Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership