In a landmark ruling with wide-ranging implications, the Supreme Court today upheld the so-called individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, the key part of President Obama's signature health care law.
The court ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional under the Constitution's commerce clause, but it can stay as part of Congress's power under a taxing clause. The court said that the government will be allowed to tax people for not having health insurance.
"The Affordable Care Act'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 in the ruling. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."
The ruling is a victory for the Obama administration and a defeat for Republicans, who had anticipated that at least some of the law would be struck down. But it also means the debate will continue.
"It actually settles nothing. By shifting the debate to the tax arena, and with a four-justice dissent, the decision guarantees only that the broader fight over a suitable national health policy will continue," said Richard Saltman, a professor at the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University. "In effect, the court decided this was too hot to handle. The focus will (has already) shift back to the political arena, where a deeply divided electorate will have to decide which policy path they want the country to pursue."