Obama’s health care overhaul, signed into law two years ago, is his signature domestic policy achievement. It remains a divisive issue among Americans and is likely to be a key issue ahead of the November 6 election in which he seeks a second term, reports Reuters.
Harsh questioning by conservative Supreme Court justices Tuesday sparked concern that the health care reform law’s individual mandate could be stricken.
The Huff Post writes that without it health insurance companies and the White House are worried the health care market could blow up come 2014.
“If the mandate goes, people can literally buy coverage on the way to the hospital and then drop it the next day,” said Alissa Fox, a senior vice president at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
On Tuesday U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli closed his case with an emotional request that the justices uphold the law. Verrilli cited millions of people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer who would get health insurance under the law.
On Wednesday justices weighed whether invalidating the individual mandate would necessitate repealing the entire law.
“What you would get if the court threw out the mandate and left the rest of the law in place is a really ugly health insurance market that doesn’t work very well and makes everybody upset,” said Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates.
The law, which constitutes the $2.6 trillion U.S. healthcare system’s biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years, seeks to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans and to slow down soaring medical costs.
The plan is built on the theory that the best way to expand coverage and promote affordable plans is to get younger and healthier people to pay premiums into the system that can be used to cover the medical expenses of older, sicker people.
Obama administration lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, told the court that if the mandate was struck down, only two key provisions would also have to fall, those related to coverage for people’s pre-existing conditions and limiting costs for those patients with a past medical history.
The Obama administration would appear in a difficult position if only the mandate is voted down.
“They wouldn’t have much of a choice but to try to help the insurers get over the hump,” said Joseph Antos, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The court appeared sharply divided along ideological lines, with the five Republican-appointed conservatives doubting the law would survive and the four Democratic-appointed liberals offering a strong defense for the statute.
Chief Justice Roberts said the court would have difficulty figuring out what Congress really wanted to survive from the law because of horse-trading that went on when lawmakers crafted the legislation.
However, an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system remains popular even though Americans are not enamored with the law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
Reuters tells that the poll found that 44 percent of respondents favor the law, and that an additional 21 percent oppose it because it doesn’t go far enough – for a total of 65 percent.
The justices will meet in private on Friday to discuss the issues heard during the arguments this week and take a preliminary secret vote on how they plan to rule.
Then the justices will begin drafting their written opinions in the private confines of their chambers.