U.S. Supreme Court Begins Hearing Health Care Reform Case

March 26, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the first day of oral argument about the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

According to the U.S. Supreme Court website, attorneys on behalf of 26 states have brought legal action and began arguments on Monday, March 26 (see “Supreme Court Sets Week Aside to Hear PPACA Arguments”).

On Monday, the court will hear arguments in regards to whether the Anti-Injunction Act applies to PPACA. The Anti-Injunction Act prohibits lawsuits on taxation bills from being heard until the tax is brought into effect.  If the court rules the Anti-Injunction Act applies, it will terminate any legal action against the PPACA until the PPACA tax penalty becomes effective on January 1, 2014.

The hearing scheduled for March 27 will focus on the extent that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution delegates to the federal government the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and specifically whether the federal government can force someone who does not want to engage in interstate commerce to buy something. The specific issue asks if the refusal to participate in interstate commerce by an individual failing to purchase health insurance, generally known as the individual mandate, constitutes engaging in interstate commerce and is thus subject to federal regulation. There are legal precedents to which both sides can appeal. Some cases have found an unlimited authority on the part of the federal government. Other cases have stated that the delegated authority under the Commerce Clause is not without limits (see “Florida HCR Challengers Win on Commerce Clause Argument” and “Court Upholds Ruling that Health Care Law is Constitutional”).

The final arguments on March 28 will address the issue of the missing severability clause that would have protected the balance of the PPACA in the event that the Supreme Court declares another part of the PPACA to be invalid. Severability clauses are standard boilerplate for legislation. A severability clause was included in all but the final draft of the PPACA that passed the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives considered the Senate version for action, and passed the Senate version without a severability clause.

The court will also hear arguments on the last day about the constitutionality of the federal government forcing states to participate in PPACA or be subject to the punishment of withholding Medicaid dollars.