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January 29, 2012

Future of Health Care Law Without Individual Mandate Debated

Even if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (PPACA) mandate requiring U.S. citizens to carry health care coverage is deemed unconstitutional, the remainder of the law can be salvaged, lawyers representing the Obama administration told the Supreme Court on Friday.

Twenty six states and the National Federation of Independent Business have challenged the legality of the PPACA's individual mandate, which would require Americans to either purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay an annual penalty, according to Reuters reporter James Vicini.

On Friday, though, attorneys representing the President argued that those parties have failed to prove that Congress would have wanted to overturn the entire law if the individual mandate was found to be unconstitutional, Vicini said. In a written brief, they reportedly claimed that all but two provisions of the law can effectively be separated from that portion of the PPACA.

"Many provisions of the act, focused on controlling costs, improving public health and other objectives, have no connection to insurance coverage at all," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in that brief, according to Reuters. "And Congress directed that much of the act take effect several years before the minimum coverage provision's effective date, further demonstrating that Congress intended those provisions to operate independently."

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments pertaining to the health care law on March 26, 27, and 28. In addition to the question over whether or not to overturn the whole law in the case that the individual mandate is stricken, Vicini said that the justices will also consider whether or not Congress exceeded its powers in adopting the mandate.

"The government's attorneys said those challenging the law failed to show one instance when the Supreme Court in modern times has struck down a comprehensive law like the healthcare overhaul based on a finding that one provision exceeded Congress's authority," he reported. "The administration last month filed a separate brief with the high court defending the mandate as a constitutional attempt by Congress to address a crisis in the national health care market."

In a statement Friday, NFIB Executive Director Karen Harned said, “Two months from today, the voice of the American small-business owner will be heard in the Supreme Court. What NFIB will argue is simple: the mandate to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional, and the health-care law cannot exist if the Court strikes down the unconstitutional mandate that holds it together.

“Even the government recognizes how essential the mandate is to making the entire health-care law function as Congress intended. In fact, they have already acknowledged that if the individual mandate falls, two other key provisions–community rating and guarantee issue–must fall as well," Harned added. “NFIB believes that if the mandate falls, then so too should the entire law. To argue otherwise would be like arguing a house can stand after its foundation has crumbled.”

In related news, earlier this week, members of the House of Representatives began the process of drafting a law to replace the PPACA, in the event that the Supreme Court deems it unconstitutional when they make their ruling, which is expected by the end of June.

According to Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press (AP), the legislation "would include malpractice reform, high-risk insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions, tax breaks for individuals and small businesses, and would allow people to buy cheaper coverage from insurers in another state."


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