Health-care reform debate reaches Supreme Court

by Allison Caramico
The Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or Obamacare, is currently being debated in the Supreme Court. Twenty-eight states have sued, claiming the law is unconstitutional.
This law, signed by President Obama in 2010, aims to provide health insurance for 30 million Americans who do not have coverage by fixing problems such as healthcare denial and lifetime limits. The changes will take place in two phases, with all changes implemented by 2019.
During the first phase, insurance companies will be limited as to how they can spend their money, and preventative services will become free on all insurance plans. Most insurance companies cover children on their parents’ plans until age 19, but under the new law, the age will instead be 26.
The government will also give small businesses tax breaks so that they can provide their workers with health insurance and will outlaw lifetime limits on coverage. It will become illegal to turn down children for insurance because of preexisting conditions and a partially government-funded option called a high-risk pool will become available for adults with pre-existing conditions.
The second phase will establish a health-insurance exchange for those who are not provided insurance by their employers. Insurers are directed to provide easy-to-understand explanations of coverage options.  The law’s designers hope that fair competition regulated by the federal government will keep prices low.  People who lose their jobs or are not provided insurance by their employers will receive tax credits meant to offset the cost of purchasing their own plans.
The aspect of this law that has caused the most controversy is the individual mandate. The mandate states that people who do not receive insurance from their employers or buy it themselves will have to pay a penalty to the government.
By the time the law is fully enacted, this year’s graduating class will be 25, making today’s high school students among the first potentially to face the individual mandate.
“Yes it is terrible to have to pay for insurance, but with more and more people not being able to pay hospital bills, we need to have some way to pay the hospitals without patients going broke,” said sophomore Eric Tannenbaum.
Many believe that requiring citizens to buy insurance is unconstitutional, causing several states to sue over the law.
“Not only will our health care system be altered, but our entire legislative system will be altered as well.  For the first time in American history, the government will force Americans to buy a specific product—health care—or be punished by a fine or some other method.  If this law is ruled constitutional, this is a huge, historic change,” said junior Meredith Parker.
The Supreme Court has to consider several important factors when determining if the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.  The court will decide if the commerce clause, which states that Congress has the power “to regulate commerce…among the several states,” applies to the mandate.
Before that question can be considered, it must be determined if the penalty is a tax. If so, the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits refunds on a taxes until they are paid, would make the entire court case a moot point until penalties are collected in 2019.
If the Supreme Court rules the individual mandate unconstitutional, the court will have to decide if the rest of the law could still be enforced without that provision.
New Jersey has decided not to become too involved with the debate. Governor Chris Christie has not sued over the law as many other Republican governors have done; he is holding off on establishing the health-insurance exchange until the court makes it’s decision.
Parker supports Christie’s wait-and-see approach: “I think that for the moment, New Jersey should not take any action in the healthcare debate.  Since it is a federal government issue and not a state issue, there is no need to get involved until the Supreme Court ruling is finalized.”
The Supreme Court is expected to make its ruling in June.