U. S. Supreme Court Hears Lawsuit Brought By Texas and Other States Attacking Constitutionality of New Health Care Reform Law

For the next three days, the United States Supreme Court will hold momentous hearings to consider whether the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is legal.

Texas and other states (the number has now grown to 26) filed a lawsuit challenging the new law’s constitutionality, especially its key requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

As a Fort Worth personal injury lawyer, I have seen that uninsured people usually do not have a way to pay for their large medical bills when they are injured in an automobile accident (or if they are covered, their insurance companies deny or only partially pay for their medical treatment — and then demand to be repaid), so this decision is especially important to my clients.

Here’s the Supreme Court’s docket this week:

Today: The Court has allotted 90 minutes to hear arguments that the lawsuit challenging the law is moot (premature) due to the 1867 statute.

Tomorrow: The court will consider the mandate issue, specifically whether Congress had the authority to require mandatory coverage.

Wednesday: The court will review (1) whether the new law can be enacted if the individual mandate is struck, and (2) whether Congress lawfully required states to accept the law at the risk of having their federal funding withheld.

The public is divided on the law, with 47% against, 36% in favor, and 16% undecided, according to a recent CBS News/New York TImes poll. Many believe the government is over reaching.

The administration has argued that the health care market is a unique one and that regulating how people pay for services they are virtually certain to use at some point in their lives is easily within the authority granted to the federal government by the Constitution, which gives Congress specified powers, reserving the rest to the states and to the people. The two powers at issue in the case, set out in Article I, Section 8, concern the regulation of interstate commerce and the imposition of taxes.

The Supreme Court has read the commerce clause broadly, e.g. saying it allows Congress to limit how much wheat may be grown on a family farm as well as to punish the cultivation of home-grown marijuana. There have been only two modern exceptions to that broad interpretation: in 1995, the Court struck down a federal law regulating guns near schools and in 2000, it struck down a federal law allowing suits over violence against women. In both cases, the Court said the activity sought to be regulated was local and noncommercial.

According to new research by the Urban Institute for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the insurance requirement would only make 18.2 million Americans – or just seven percent of the nonelderly population – buy new health coverage (or pay an income tax penalty for noncompliance). The other 93 percent either already have health insurance or would fall under various exemptions included in the law.

The date of the Court’s final decision is uncertain. If the Court decides that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the case, Congress can repeal the 1867 law and the Court would have to reconvene to hear arguments again, presumably an unlikely prospect. One can safely assume that the four conservative justices, Roberts, Alito,Thomas, and Scalia will vote to overturn the law, and that the four liberal members of the Court, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomeyer will vote to uphold it, with Justice Kennedy being the usual deciding vote between the two blocs.Since the Court’s term ends in late June, a decision must be issued by then – just in time for the presidential elections.

This case affects all Americans. But I am most worried about my clients who are in two groups on this issue: (1) those who pay a lot of money to be covered by health insurance — but their company often refuses to pay for their medical bills, greatly minimizes the amount it will pay, or pays them but then demands to be reimbursed from the other driver’s liability company, and (2) those who are unfortunately uninsured because they cannot afford coverage, have jobs that do not offer health insurance, have plans with high deductibles to save money on premiums, or are unemployed. (Texas has the greatest number of uninsured people in the country.)

If you want to listen to today’s arguments, or want more information about this case, or the Supreme Court, here is the link:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio_detail.aspx?argument=11-398-Monday

If you want to read a transcript of today’s hearing, click here:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/03/health-care-reform-in-the-supreme-court-day-1-audio-and-transcript.html

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