The court says Congress has the power to require individuals to purchase health insurance. Will the government help me if I can't afford it? Since the penalty for not purchasing minimally adequate healthMore >>
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WASHINGTON (RNN) - In a surprise move, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 that Congress has the right to require Americans to buy health insurance by 2014, a key provision of the Obama Administration's healthcare reform law.
The decision is a re-election victory for President Barack Obama, who has framed the legislation as a signature achievement of his presidency.
It was anticipated that Justice Anthony Kennedy would hold the deciding vote to save or overturn the ACA, but it was actually conservative Chief Justice John Roberts whose fifth vote saved the legislation.
"Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes," Roberts wrote in the court's majority opinion. "That, according to the government, means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition - not owning health insurance - that triggers a tax.
"Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance."
Roberts continued that since the mandate worked as a taxing measure, "This is sufficient to sustain it."
The opinion noted people can chose to forgo buying insurance and simply pay higher taxes.
The entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) survived Supreme Court review Thursday. The decision was arguably the most anticipated in the court's history.
"Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory to people all over the country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it," Obama said at an address to the nation after the ruling.
Obama also highlighted that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney supported healthcare reforms similar to those in the ACA during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Romney joined a number of Republican lawmakers who have renewed vows to repeal the ACA.
House majority leader Eric Cantor announced during a press conference that the House of Representatives will vote to repeal the legislation on July 11.
"Let's be clear about what the court did today. What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the constitution," he said at a press conference. "They did not say that it is good law or good policy.
"Obamacare was bad policy yesterday; it's bad policy today."
In response Obama said, "We'll work together to improve it where we can … what the country can't afford to do is have the same arguments we had two years ago."
Other lawmakers were split on their reactions to the ruling, many falling along partisan lines.
"The president of the United States himself promised up and down that this bill was not a tax. This was one of the Democrats top selling points because they knew it never would have passed if they said it was a tax." Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said. "Well, the Supreme Court has spoken, this law is a tax."
"I'm pleased to see the Supreme Court put the rule of law ahead of partisanship and ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional," Senate majority leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor.
Justices also ruled the ACA's expansion of Medicaid benefits to those within approximately 138 percent of the federal poverty line is constitutional.
However, they also ruled the government could not take back all Medicaid funding to states that chose not to expand their programs.
"Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use," Roberts wrote."What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding."
The court's majority opinion was joined by justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Dissenting were justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The ACA was passed in 2010 after a grueling set of negotiations in the House of Representatives and Senate. The nearly 3,000-page bill is considered landmark legislation.
The Supreme Court will resume hearing arguments on Oct. 1.
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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