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Supreme Court gives ‘Obamacare’ green light, but strikes down Medicaid expansion

Published time: June 28, 2012 14:12
Edited time: June 28, 2012 21:26
Protesters dressed as US President Barack Obama await a decision by the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act, US President Barack Obama's signature healthcare legislation, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 28, 2012. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Protesters dressed as US President Barack Obama await a decision by the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act, US President Barack Obama's signature healthcare legislation, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 28, 2012. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Barack Obama’s healthcare reform survives the Supreme Court but not unscathed. The mandate forcing Americans into obligatory purchasing healthcare insurance emerges not under the commerce clause, but as a tax.

The ruling on the law, which is the latest attempt in 50 years to provide health insurance to the uninsured  and slow down soaring medical costs, was passed by a 5-4 vote. The court limited the law’s extension of the Medicaid program for the poor by saying the federal government cannot threaten to withhold money from states that do not fully comply, reports Bloomberg.

"Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding," said Judge John Roberts, who joined the liberal wing in upholding the healthcare law.

In March, as the final hearing was held, the nine-member court wanted to know whether the law could stand if the core requisite that most Americans must acquire insurance or face a fine is struck down. The chief legal argument in court was that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. On Thursday, however, the individual mandate appeared to have survived as constitutional – not under the commerce clause, but as a tax.

President Barack Obama called the Supreme Court's decision "a victory for people all over this country."

The Affordable Care Act enabled in 2010 is viewed as Obama's major accomplishment in his first three years in office. The plan is meant to extend coverage to most of the estimated 50 million Americans currently uninsured, reduce the amount they pay for insurance and alleviate an already $2.6 trillion US healthcare system. 

Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the plan. They say it will swell the US deficit, drive up the cost of health care and make it tougher for small businesses to hire workers. The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, pledged once again to repeal the act.

"What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare," said Romney.

Today's ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety. What Americans want is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to health care reform that will protect Americans' access to the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a lower cost,” Speaker of the House John Boehner stressed on Thursday. On the eve of the vote, Boehner vowed to repeal anything that would remain of the act. 

But the Democrats said without the mandate the healthcare policy would be put out of balance. The mandate would bring insurance companies millions more customers – in exchange, the companies would guarantee more coverage and implement other consumer protection, such as allowing college age students to remain on their parents' health plan.

The nation remains divided over the bill, with latest polls showing some 44 per cent of Americans do not support the reform.

Demonstrators protest as they await a decision by the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act, US President Barack Obama′s signature healthcare legislation, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 28, 2012. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
Demonstrators protest as they await a decision by the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act, US President Barack Obama's signature healthcare legislation, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 28, 2012. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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