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Updated: 11:18 a.m.
The Supreme Court today upheld the 2010 health care law, validating President Barack Obama’s top domestic policy achievement while dealing a stinging rebuke to mostly Republican critics who charged the statute was unconstitutional.
The opinion gives legal certainty to one of the most sweeping pieces of domestic policy legislation since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs in the 1960s and allows insurers, hospitals, drugmakers and other health care providers to continue planning for sweeping changes, many of which are set to take place in 2014.
Twenty-six states and the National Federation of Independent Business challenged a provision in the law requiring most Americans to buy health insurance or pay fines, saying it exceeded legislators’ power over interstate commerce. States also challenged an expansion of Medicaid, a health care program for the poor.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined four Democratic-appointed justices in ruling 5-4 that the coverage mandate was legal under Congress’ authority to levy taxes. The court limited, but did not invalidate the Medicaid expansion, saying the federal government can’t withhold funds from states that don’t fully comply with the provision. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Other elements of the law remain intact, including a requirement that health care plans offer coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions and provisions that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and help close a gap in seniors’ Medicare drug coverage.
The dramatic ruling, coming a little more than 18 weeks before the presidential election, probably won’t end the bitter partisan rancor surrounding the measure, known as the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic-controlled House and Senate passed the law without a single Republican vote in March 2010, and polls have shown the public almost evenly divided over its merits ever since.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the high court ruling underscores the need for Congress to repeal the entire law.
“Today’s decision does nothing to diminish the fact that Obamacare’s mandates, tax hikes and Medicare cuts should be repealed and replaced with common sense reforms that lower costs and that the American people actually want,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said millions of Americans are already seeing benefits from the law and called on lawmakers to move on to address the economy.
“Now that this matter is settled, I hope we can work together to create jobs and secure this country’s economic future,” Reid said.