The U.S. Supreme Court concluded three days of oral arguments in the lawsuit challenging the federal health reform law yesterday.
Wednesday’s hearings consisted of a morning session on the severability of the law’s individual mandate and an afternoon session on the overhaul’s Medicaid expansion.
Audio and written transcripts of the morning session and the afternoon session are available from the Supreme Court’s website.
Wednesday’s afternoon session ended more than six hours of oral arguments over three days. The high court is expected to release its decision in late June (Bloomberg, 3/28).
Severability of Individual Mandate
In the morning session of Wednesday’s arguments, some of the justices seemed open to allowing the remainder of the overhaul to stand even if the individual mandate is deemed unconstitutional. Some observers noted that the justices’openness to allowing other provisions to stand could indicate that they have accepted that the individual mandate will be struck down.
According to AP, three liberal justices—Rth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan,and Sonia Sotomayor—asked questions that intimated they believe the law can stand without the minimum coverage requirement. Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia—both conservatives—also asked questions that suggest they were leaning the same way. Roberts noted that the law includes measures—such as a provision related to Native American health care—that are unrelated to the individual mandate.
Uncertainty Among Justices
While most of the justices seemed opposed to eliminating the entire law, they also “were clearly worried about the consequences if they pull out pieces of the law and that throws the rest of the health care system into chaos” (Gerstein/Budoff Brown, Politico, 3/28).
Ginsburg said that if portions of the overhaul needed to be changed as a result of the high court’s decision, “Congress can take care of it” rather than the courts. Kagan noted that it would represent a “revolution” for the court to guess which provisions Congress would have approved without the individual mandate.
Scalia said it is “totally unrealistic” for the court to comb through the 2,700 pages in the health reform law. “My approach would be to say that if you take the heart of the statute”—referring to the individual mandate—“the statute’s gone.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a likely swing vote, said it would be “more extreme” for the court to attempt to piece together the remaining parts of the overhaul. If they were to do that, “we would have a new regime that Congress did not order.”
Implications for California
The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that California could receive an additional $45 billion to $55 billion in federal funds between 2014 and 2019 if the reform law is upheld.
A friend of the court brief filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris and attorneys general in 11 other states estimates that the law’s Medicaid expansion could extend health care to 11.2 million U.S. residents, including 1.9 million Californians.
Source: California Healthline, March 29, 2012.