The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care reform law, paving the way for a fast-tracked decision that—regardless of which way it goes—will affect comp and benefits professionals for years to come.
If the Supreme Court accepts the case—most court watchers believe it will—a decision will likely come next June, just as the 2012 presidential campaign kicks into high gear. The current Supreme Court term began Oct. 3.
The DOJ asked the High Court to review an August decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that found Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority by including an “individual mandate” in the ACA. The law requires almost all Americans to have a minimum amount of health insurance coverage.
The two judges in the 11th Circuit majority wrote that individual mandate is a “wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority.” Opponents of the law argue that, while Congress can forbid certain kinds of commercial activity, it can’t require everyone to purchase any product or service.
Those who favor the law say the individual mandate is covered by Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce.
The case the Supreme Court is likely to hear was originally filed by attorneys general from 26 states.
The Obama administration won both other federal appeals court cases challenging the ACA. In June, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. In September, a panel of the 4th Circuit ruled that the state of Virginia lacks standing to challenge the law until the individual mandate takes effect in 2014.
DOJ officials said they pushed for an early Supreme Court decision to remove uncertainty among employers and insurance companies.
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