Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to Health-Care Law

The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether President Obama’s health-care-reform legislation, arguably the administration’s signature domestic policy, is constitutional.

The White House last September had sought a ruling from the Supreme Court in an effort to consolidate opposition to the law and determine once and for all whether it’s legal for the government to require citizens to carry health insurance.

A key element of the sweeping reform sought to lower health-insurance premiums across-the board by mandating that everyone have some form of coverage or face penalties by 2014.

Opponents have argued such a requirement -- referred to as the individual mandate -- is unconstitutional and 26 states have sued to have the law overturned.

Several state courts that have already taken the suits under review have viewed the law differently, some deciding it’s legal and others unconstitutional. Judges in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., have ruled in favor of the law, while a court in Georgia held against the individual mandate while upholding other elements of the reform. A Virginia court held off on a ruling until penalties are actually imposed for not obtaining coverage.

The White House has said the Supreme Court should have final say.

In a statement Monday, the Obama administration said: “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), an opponent of the reform, said in a statement: “This government takeover of health care is threatening jobs, increasing costs, and jeopardizing coverage for millions of Americans, and I hope the Supreme Court overturns it.”

A spokesman for the Supreme Court said a decision could come by next summer, just ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Oral arguments will be heard in March during 5 ½ hours of testimony.

It’s not clear what path the high court will take once the law is under its review. It could rule on the entirety of the law, striking it down or upholding it, or break the legislation down and rule on the legality of specific aspects such as the individual mandate.

Also to be determined by the Supreme Court is whether increased Medicaid eligibility created under the legislation creates an unconstitutional burden on the states.

The issue will play a key role in the presidential election. All of the Republican contenders for the nomination have vowed to repeal the landmark legislation, arguing it’s an unconstitutional intrusion by government and that it raises the costs of health care rather than lowering them.

The National Federation of Business, which represents thousands of small U.S. businesses, is also a plaintiff in the case.

The NFIB released a statement Monday saying the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case “comes not a day too soon” for small businesses.

“The health-care law has not lived up to its promises of reducing costs, allowing citizens to keep their coverage or improving a cumbersome system that has long been a burden to small-business owners and employees, alike. The small-business community can now have hope; their voices are going to be heard in the nation’s highest court,” NFIB President Dan Danner said in the statement.