The Supreme Court on Monday took on the momentous issue of the constitutionality of the health care reform law - a question loaded with election-year politics and potential consequences for millions of Americans.
Justices began hearing oral arguments at 10 a.m. in the first of three days of hearings. Justices have cleared their schedule for the week and plan to spend a total of six hours hearing arguments on the case. A decision is not expected this week and could be announced anytime before the court adjourns in late June.
At issue is the constitutionality of the health care reform law, the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama's three years in office. The law was passed in 2010 by a sharply divided Congress, but states began challenging it almost immediately. In all, 26 states have joined the case.
Polls have consistently shown the public is divided. A CBS News/New York Times poll released Monday morning found that 47 percent of respondents are opposed to the law, while 36 percent approve of it and 16 percent are undecided.
Those numbers are basically similar to other polls and have not changed substantially in the past two years.
Titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law has been derided as "Obamacare" by its critics, who view it as a massive government overreach. Much of the criticism has been directed at the so-called "individual mandate," a component of the law that requires people to obtain health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty.
A large part of the case before the Supreme Court rests on the mandate, with opponents arguing that it is illegal under the Constitution's Commerce Clause. Supporters say the individual mandate is necessary to spread health care costs among a larger pool of taxpayers.
Supporters tout the law's extension of health care to children, guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing illnesses, improvements to preventative care such as mammograms, and improvements in prescription drug costs for seniors.
Specifically, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the individual mandate and whether the entire law can stand without the mandate. It is also considering whether states are being forced by the government to expand their Medicare costs and whether states have a right to sue the government under the federal Anti-Injunction Act.
Whatever the court decides is certain to have implications on the campaign trail. The remaining Republican presidential candidates have spent months blasting the law, and it is all but certain to be a major issue in the fall elections.
by RTT Staff Writer
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