President Obama is breathing a huge sigh of relief thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling on his signature healthcare legislation. The 5-4 decision, thought by many to be this court's most consequential decision to date, is a huge win for the White House, both on the campaign trail and for the impact the sweeping health care law will have on all Americans for years to come.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as the swing vote in the controversial ruling, while Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"The highest court in the land has now spoken," Obama said of what many have said will be his defining legislative accom- plishment. "Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country, whose lives will be more secure because of this law, and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it." Yet, while the president may have been vindicated on the constitutionality of the law, the battle is hardly over, particularly as the justices decided the only way the mandate forcing Americans to purchase health insurance could be upheld is as a tax, which Obama and Democrats argued it wasn't.
In his majority opinion, Justice Roberts wrote, "It is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress's power to tax."
Simply put, starting 2014, all Americans will have to carry health insurance or pay a fine, with estimates that 70- 75% of the "tax" falls on those who earn less than $200,000 per year. The penalties for those choosing to forgo health insurance are as follows: 2014: Fami-
lies––$285 or 1% of household income; Individuals––$95; 2015: Families––$975 or 2% of household income; Individuals ––$325; 2016: Families––$2,085 or 2.5% of household income; Individual adults––$695.
Some critics believe the mandate will give carte blanche to the IRS to hold up your refund or come after you to pay a fine in the event you aren't covered.
Employers will face fines if they don't offer healthcare coverage to their workers, though one 2011 study found that up to 30% of employers would drop employee health plans after 2014 as the $2,000-per- worker penalty was cheaper than an aver- age healthcare policy.
In stark contrast, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who hailed the decision as a great victory, said that 360,000 small businesses used tax credits to purchase health insurance for 2 million workers.
"Because of today's decision," Waters stated, "American families will rest assured they will not lose their insurance when they need it most!"
Those not covered by employers will pick from a list of plans provided by a web-based exchange set up by their state.
The law is projected to bring coverage to about 30 million uninsured, so that more than 9 in 10 eligible Americans will be covered, but many of its provisions have been seen as deeply flawed. Not only do many believe that it will dramatically increase the deficit, but healthcare costs are expected to rise and there's a great deal of question regarding the law's power on the states to enact the legislation.
Twenty-six states have already chal- lenged the Medicaid provision (which turns over to states an increasing share of the bill in 2017). Ironically enough, the Supreme Court's ruling sides with them, concluding that the Medicaid expansion violates the Constitution by threatening states with the loss of their existing Medicaid funding if they decline to comply with the expansion, thus effectively opening the door to future challenges.
All in all, the legislation raises the stakes in the upcoming presidential election.
Killing the bill— which is opposed in some measure by more than 60% of vot- ers— is expected to be a rallying cry for the Republicans who believe the legisla- tion to be a polarizing factor in November as Romney is positioned as the GOP's biggest chance for repeal.
"This is now a time for the American people to make a choice," Romney said. "You can choose whether you want to have a larger and larger government, more and more intrusive in your life, separating you and your doctor, whether you're comfortable with more deficits, higher debt that we pass on to the coming generations, whether you're willing to have the government put in place a plan that potentially causes you to lose the insurance that you like, or whether instead you want to return to a time when the American people will have their own choice in health care, where consumers will be able to make their choices as to what kind of