Obama Faces High Stakes in Supreme Court Arguments on Health Care

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on legal challenges to President Obama’s signature health care reform law. The court’s ruling, expected in June, will be of immense importance to Americans and a president seeking re-election in November.

President Obama signed health care reform into law in 2010 after prevailing in a year-long political struggle on an issue that defied bipartisan solutions for decades.

Thirty million uninsured Americans gain access to coverage. Highly popular provisions prohibit denial of coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, and allow children to remain on their parents' plans until they are 26.

A recent opinion poll found that fewer Americans now believe their health care will worsen under the law.

Polls also show that opposition to the law remains high.  

Critics, such as Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is a doctor, call it a big government approach that will drive up deficits and debt and lower the quality of care.

“Patients I talk to want patient-centered health care," he said.  "They don’t want insurance company-centered or government-centered.”

Supreme Court arguments will focus on a requirement that virtually all Americans buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty.

Key aspects and programs of the Affordable Care Act:

  • Adult children can remain on their parent’s insurance coverage through the age of 26.
  • An end to lifetime limits on the dollar value of benefits available to people with serious medical conditions.
  • Preventive healthcare benefits including free coverage for mammograms and birth control.
  • Medicare beneficiaries get a 50% discount on covered brand name drugs and 14% savings on generic drugs.
  • Insurance companies must justify unreasonably large healthcare premium increases.
  • Business with more than 200 employees must enroll their employees in health insurance programs or pay a penalty.
  • Businesses with 50 to 200 employees who work 30 hours or more a week must offer insurance or money to workers who want to get insurance elsewhere.
  • Businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt from coverage provisions.

Opponents call this unconstitutional and want the law repealed.

Scott Vavrinchik is a partner in a company in Chicago that provides kidney dialysis services, which the federal government normally pays for.

“I think it is unconstitutional.  I think it is a freedom of choice [issue]," he said.  "Health care is not a right, it is a commodity.”

Attorneys-general in 26 Republican-led states, filed suit against the health care law.  A Florida judge struck it down last year, though it has been upheld in other courts.

Maron Soueid, a recent college graduate from New Jersey, believes arguments against the law won’t stand in the long run.

“It has been difficult to find a job, and a job that will cover all of your health care, so this is definitely beneficial for a person like me,” Soueid said.

The Obama administration points out the law's benefits.  On the president's re-election campaign web site a video highlights a family relying on it to care for a daughter with a heart condition.

“I can’t even fathom what is going through the minds of people who want to repeal the health care act," the daughter's mother says in the video.  "They’re choosing life or death for many, many Americans.”

Health care is a key issue in the 2012 presidential campaign as Mr. Obama seeks re-election and spars with Republican challengers.

“Depending on what the Supreme Court rules, one side or the other could be particularly emboldened," said Henry Olsen, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.  "It also brings back the conversation to health care, which is not a good field for President Obama to be fighting on.”

If the Supreme Court upholds the health care law, Mr. Obama could gain important momentum before the November presidential election.

If the court strikes down major provisions, opponents will claim victory and argue that he mishandled his signature legislative achievement.

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