Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to Health Care Mandate

As predicted, the U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear a challenge to the health-care overhaul act passed in 2010, “with a decision on President Obama’s most controversial domestic achievement likely to come in the summer of his reelection campaign,” as The Washington Post put it.

The newspaper added:

Opponents have called the massive new law, with its central mandate that almost all Americans have health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, an unprecedented expansion of the national government.

The administration says it is confident the act will be upheld as a valid exercise of federal power, just as Social Security and the Civil Rights Act were found to be constitutional.”

Ruling expected by June

USA Today says that, “The justices will hear arguments on the health care law in March; they are expected to rule by the end of the current term, which normally comes in late June. The key legal question is whether the federal government has the right to force most Americans to buy health insurance. If the justices say no, that would undercut major parts of the law, such as the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions.”

A number of cases challenging the health care mandate have made it to various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the conflicting decisions coming out of those courts made it imperative that the Supreme Court step in to sort it all out.

As The New York Times notes:

Appeals from three courts had been vying for the justices’ attention, presenting an array of issues beyond the central one of whether Congress has the constitutional power to require people to purchase health insurance or face a penalty through the so-called individual mandate.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from just one decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, the only one so far striking down the mandate. The decision, from a divided three-judge panel, said the mandate overstepped Congressional authority and could not be justified by the constitutional power “to regulate commerce” or “to lay and collect taxes.”

The appeals court went no further, though, severing the mandate from the rest of the law.

On Monday, the justices agreed to decide not only whether the mandate is constitutional but also whether, if it is not, how much of the balance of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, must fall along with it.”

Expect clear guidance from the court

There’s also a great FAQ from The Washington Post on key questions that have been popping up about the various challenges to the health care law. It’s worth taking a read to get a better sense of the various options the Supreme Court might take as it reviews the health care law.

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For talent management and HR pros, this is all about being able to know with some degree of certainty what will be required of them and their organization under the new health care law. Most have been working to implement it, but knowing exactly what will be required — or not — is critical given how costly health care coverage can be. Add in the time it takes to sort this all out and you can see how much everyone wants this settled so everyone knows exactly what will be required.

Although it is possible the Supreme Court could make a decision that fails to really settle this issue, I think it’s unlikely they will do that. The justices know as well as anyone how difficult it is to implement this on-off health care mandate, and I can’t see them doing something that would fail to cut through that with some certainty.

So, expect a decision sometime in June. No matter where you stand on health care reform, finally getting this decided will be a welcome relief.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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