Supreme Court justices appear poised to sweep aside entire health-care law
Conservative Supreme Court justices argued Wednesday morning that without the individual mandate, the entire 2,700-page health-care law must be invalidated in full.
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Some justices expressed concern over the potential financial fallout should expensive provisions in the law remain in full force without the revenue producing individual mandate.
Justice Samuel Alito cited a friend-of-the-court brief that suggested insurance reforms in the law would impose 10-year costs of $700 billion to the insurance industry.
The costs were to be partly offset by an expected $350 billion in new revenues from new insurance premiums under the independent mandate. If the mandate was struck down and the $350 billion lost, what would happen to the insurance industry, Justice Alito asked.
Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler said the justices should confine their analysis to the text of the statute, or risk becoming a kind of shadow budget committee. He then mentioned that the Medicaid expansion in the reform law could provide some reimbursement to insurance companies.
That’s when Chief Justice Roberts dropped a bombshell of a question: “Does the government have a position on what should happen if the Medicaid expansion is struck down?”
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The comment came shortly before the court met for an hour of argument Wednesday afternoon on whether the government’s expansion of Medicaid violated the sovereignty of the states by forcing them to carry out the Obama administration’s health-care reform policy at the state level.
Kneedler replied that if the Medicaid expansion was struck down, the rest of the health reform law could operate.
After that exchange, Justice Kennedy returned to Alito’s question about the potential financial risk to the insurance industry.
“Is it within the proper exercise of his court’s function to impose that kind of risk,” Kennedy asked. “Can we say that the Congress would have intended that there be that kind of risk?”
Kennedy continued: “If we lack the competence to even assess whether there is a risk, then isn’t this an awesome exercise of judicial power?”
Kneedler said no. “The court’s function is to look at the text and structure of the act and what the substantive provisions of the act themselves mean,” he said.
At one point, Justice Scalia took issue with conducting a page-by-page review of the massive law – suggesting such a process would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
“What happened to the Eighth Amendment,” he asked Kneedler. “Do you really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?”
The comment drew laughter in the courtroom.
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