It looks like President Obama’s health plan will remain intact, at least for now.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier today upheld the individual insurance mandate provision of the President’s health care reform legislation. The vote was close, 5 to 4, but it was upheld nonetheless and is scheduled to implement completely in 2014.
Most agreed that the vote would be close, but popular sentiment was on the side of the opposition. It just didn’t seem possible, critics reasoned, that the U.S. government could force citizens to purchase insurance or anything else. Polls showed that most people felt the mandatory insurance mandate would never pass constitutional scrutiny, but it did and Chief Justice John Roberts was key in the 5-4 decision. Roberts, along with justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor voted to uphold the law and Roberts reasoning was that the mandate was like paying a tax and was therefore constitutional. Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas voted in opposition.
Many political analysts rejected the tax argument and even the White House refused to pitch the plan in this manner. What Roberts stated was that the provision is not necessarily an act of force, it is really nothing more than a decision to buy insurance or else pay a fine to the IRS. Since there is a choice, and since a fine is similar to paying additional tax to the IRS, Roberts reasoned that it did not violate the U.S. Constitution. The other four justices upheld the law, but rejected Roberts’ reasoning. Instead, they argued that the individual insurance mandate was nothing more than an act of commerce and therefore legal under the law.
So, what does this mean to you and I, the American taxpayers? Well, the majority of us already have health insurance, either through our employer or through independent purchase. For us, the law doesn’t mean anything directly because we are already in compliance with the insurance mandate. For others, it means choosing between health insurance or paying an IRS fine equal to one percent of income. Single people and others at the lower end of the income scale may decide to cough up the cash and pay the fine, since it would be less than the cost of insurance. Others may decide to go ahead and buy insurance since the cost difference between paying for insurance and paying the fine may be relatively small.
Financial hardship is one way to avoid the provisions of this law and some can gain exclusion based on certain religious beliefs. Everyone else, however, must buy health insurance or pay additional taxes/fines to the IRS. One percent isn’t much, but the more one earns, the more sense it would make to just buy health insurance and be done with it, which is exactly what the White House and supporters of the health reform act hope will happen.
Those who oppose the insurance mandate have still vowed to fight. The constitutionality of Obama’s health plan has been decided, but that doesn’t mean Americans have to accept the law itself. The entire health care package could be brought before Congress again and, with the right number of opposition votes, could be overturned in its entirety- something that Republican candidate Mitt Romney and others have already promised to do if they take control of the White House and Congress later this year.