Health care debate and the Supreme court

Supreme Court plunges into health care debate

People in support of and against health care reform legislation argue outside the U.S. Supreme Court March 26, 2012, in Washington. (AFP/Getty Images)
(CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - With demonstrators chanting outside, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments Monday on the fate of President Obama's historic health care overhaul, no less controversial two years after Democrats pushed it to passage in Congress. Twenty-six states are leading the legal challenge, while Republican presidential candidates are vowing to repeal it after throwing Mr. Obama out of office.
The law, much of which has still to take effect, would require almost all Americans to obtain health insurance and would extend coverage to more than 30 million people who now lack it. The law would be the largest expansion in the nation's social safety net in more than four decades.
The nine justices began hearing arguments a little after 10 a.m. EDT. In the opening minutes, the justices asked pointed questions about a legal issue that could derail the case. Eight justices fired two dozen questions in less than half hour at Washington attorney Robert Long. He was appointed by the justices to argue that the case has been brought prematurely because a law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid.
This is an issue because the key part of the law -- the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes -- doesn't take effect until 2014, CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford reported.
One federal appeals court ruled the lawsuits should wait until that actually happens. But even if the Supreme Court agrees, the justices this week will go ahead and hear all the other arguments against the law.
Tuesday is the ballgame. That's when the justices will take up the so-called "individual mandate," the controversial requirement that Americans have to buy insurance. The question: Can Congress force people to buy something?
The opponents argue Congress has no power under the Constitution to order people to buy anything and that if the law stands, Congress will have sweeping new authority to dictate Americans' behavior.
On Wednesday, the justices will turn to more technical though equally important questions, including: If the individual mandate is unconstitutional, does that mean the entire law is struck down?
One lower court rejected the individual mandate but said the rest of the massive law could remain, including provisions that keep insurers from dropping people with pre-existing conditions or raising premiums based on medical history.
Outside the court building Monday, about 100 supporters of the law walked in a circle holding signs that read, "Protect my healthcare," and chanting, "Care for you, care for me, care for every family." A half-dozen opponents shouted, "We love the Constitution!"
A four-person student band from Howard University was part of the group favoring the law, playing New Orleans-style jazz tunes.
Meanwhile, a CBS News/New York Times poll released Monday shows 47 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's Affordable Care Act, including 30 percent who strongly disapprove. In the poll, conducted March 21-25, only 36 percent of those questioned said they support the law either somewhat or strongly.
A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of a presidential election campaign in which all of Mr. Obama's Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal, if the high court doesn't strike it down first.
People hoping for a glimpse of the action have waited in line all weekend for the relatively few seats open to the public. The justices allotted the case six hours of argument time, the most since the mid-1960s.
Nurses Lauri Lineweaver and Laura Brennaman, who are completing doctoral degrees, had been waiting since noon Sunday and got tickets to see arguments. "It's an honor to be in the court," said Lineweaver, 35.
The court will release audio recordings of the arguments on the same day they take place. The first time that happened was when the court heard argument in the Bush v. Gore case that settled the 2000 presidential election. The last occasion was the argument in the Citizens United case that wound up freeing businesses from longstanding limits on political spending.
Outside groups filed a record 136 briefs on various aspects of the court case.
If upheld, the law will force dramatic changes in the way insurance companies do business, including forbidding them from denying coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions and limiting how much they can charge older people.
The law envisions that insurers will be able to accommodate older and sicker people without facing financial ruin because of its most disputed element, the requirement that Americans have insurance or pay a penalty.
By 2019, about 95 percent of the country will have health insurance if the law is allowed to take full effect, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
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