U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's healthcare law in a review of the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system in about a half century.
In a 5-4 ruling based on the power of Congress to tax, the court upheld the law's "individual mandate" requiring that most Americans obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax.
The law's "requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority.
"Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," wrote Roberts, who was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in upholding the law's key provision.
The court did hold that Congress went too far in requiring states to expand the government's Medicaid health insurance program for the poor in order to extend coverage to many uninsured people.
The court said this problem was addressed by precluding the federal government from withdrawing existing Medicaid funds from states that do not comply with the expansion, but that this did not require striking down other parts of the law.
The healthcare law, known formally as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is the biggest overhaul of the $2.6 trillion healthcare system since the 1960s. It was signed by Obama in March 2010 and immediately put to the test in the courts by 26 of the 50 states and a trade group for small businesses.
The court's decision largely vindicates a sweeping attempt to fix a system that, while representing nearly 18 percent of the economy, leaves 16 percent of Americans uninsured, a failure that sets the United States apart in the industrialized world.
The U.S. system, unlike other rich countries, is a patchwork of private insurance and restrictive government programs. The United States pays more for healthcare than any other country but tens of millions of people remain with no insurance at all.