The Supreme Court and the Affordable Care Act

March 23rd, 2012

As the Affordable Health Care Act turns two, the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the legislation. Boston University health law professor Wendy Mariner spoke about the case in The Insider, a publication of BU’s School of Public Health. Here is an excerpt of her Q&A:

“Congress has never enacted a law exactly like this one, and there is no Supreme Court precedent that is exactly on point.

“The most principled reason for objecting to the mandate is that some people believe that the federal government should not have the power to require people to buy a commercial product they don’t want. However, this misses the point that they are already in the market for health care and that health insurance is simply a means of paying for the care that they have used or will use.

“Moreover, this objection appears to be grounded in a belief the government is infringing on individual liberty. Liberty isĀ  protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Notably, the challengers do not (and could not) claim that Massachusetts violated individual liberty by requiring individuals to have health insurance. Instead, they base their argument on Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, Article I of the Constitution. In other words, they argue that the federal government cannot do what states can.

“There may also be political and ideological motivations to challenge the Affordable Care Act. Some people, including conservative legislators who insisted that health reform preserve the private health insurance market, oppose any greater role for government in health policy. But the Supreme Court will decide the case based on Constitutional doctrine, not on policy preferences.”

Contact Mariner at 617-638-4626;

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