Supreme Court to Hear PPACA Arguments

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The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today that it will consider insurance questions pertaining to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

As such, the court will assess whether Congress possesses the right to enact legislation that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance -- and whether Anti-Injunction Act bars a suit brought by respondents to challenge the minimum coverage provision of the PPACA.

In a sweeping decision, the court also agreed to review whether the insurance-mandate penalties included PPACA fall into the category of tax that can only be challenged after it is collected, rather than before. If the court determines that it is premature to deal with the core issue, it would not have the legal power to consider such a challenge until consumers are required to pay that tax starting in January 2014.

Lower courts ruled for the Obama administration on this issue. Notably, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that it did not possess the jurisdiction to decide the constitutionality of the law because the Anti-Injunction Act mandates that consumers pay the tax first, then seek a refund and, in subsequent proceedings, raise the constitutional issue. The court avoided dealing with the mandate issue, deeming it “premature”.

Individuals and entities who oppose the legislation and contend that the mandate to buy insurance is unconstitutional have expressed concern that the Supreme Court might sidestep the critical mandate this year by supporting the 4th Circuit on the procedural issue.

Challengers, among them 26 states and a majority of conservatives, perceive the insurance requirement as an unprecedented intrusion on individual liberty. They argue that Congress cannot leverage its interstate commerce powers to regulate citizens who opt against procuring health insurance.

Oral arguments will be held in March. A decision is expected by June, concurrent with the commencement of electioneering for the next President, the entire House of Representatives, and one-third of the Senate.