Bill Pierce is a senior vice president in APCO Worldwide’s Washington, D.C., office. He specializes in advising health care clients; his work includes policy development, issue advocacy, message development, crisis communication and media relations.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it would take up the case of the constitutionality (among other issues) of President Obama’s health care law. This will likely be not only the case of the year, but also perhaps the most important case in decades. Oral arguments are expected to be heard sometime this spring, and a decision is possible in late June – right as the 2012 presidential campaign really starts to heat up.
Just like the political and legislative path of the law, the decision to hear this case has a few interesting twists and turns. The basic case taken up by the Supreme Court is the Florida-based lawsuit brought by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). But the Court also gave itself an out, if it chooses. One of the issues it wants argued for and against is the Anti-Injunction Act, which two lower courts have used to dismiss cases against the law.
Arguments typically take an hour, but the Court has combined several issues and scheduled a very rare 5.5 hours of oral arguments. The four issues to be considered during the oral arguments include:
- The constitutionality of the individual mandate (120 minutes).
- The question of “severability,” or which provisions should be struck if the individual mandate falls (90 minutes). The White House argues that only two insurance reforms should be struck down if the individual mandate falls, while the NFIB and the states say the whole law should go.
- The merits of the Anti-Injunction Act (60 minutes). If the Court buys the thrust of the relevance of this law, then the entire issue could be put off until the individual mandate and its penalty goes into effect. The law states that consumers cannot challenge a tax law until they have to pay it. This could be the most important question of the case.
- The Medicaid expansion included in the law (60 minutes). The states claim the expansion unlawfully coerces the states to expand the program or drop out completely. The federal government believes it is simply an expansion of an already existing program.
Whatever the decision, this will put health care squarely back in the political spotlight, as questions about how to expand coverage and lower costs and arguments about the role of government in helping those who need assistance return to the forefront.