The countdown clock is on for health care reform. This morning, the Supreme Court announced that it has set aside three dates in late March to hear arguments surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
There will actually be three separate matters before the court. The biggest one concerns the portion of the law that requires almost everyone to carry some sort of health coverage or face a financial penalty. The Supremes will hear arguments on this issue on March 27.
All but one of the federal appeals court panels that have already ruled on this matter have upheld the law, claiming that a person’s decision to not have health insurance has a wide-ranging impact that places it under the umbrella of the Commerce Clause. The one court that ruled against the Obama administration only struck down that portion of the act, not the entire thing.
On March 28, the court will hear arguments about which parts of the act would be impacted should it rule against the mandatory coverage portion of the law. There will also be time later in the day for attorneys general of numerous states to argue their claim that Congress can’t compel the states to increase their Medicaid spending.
Before all of this takes place, there is a bigger preliminary issue to be heard by the court on March 26:
The question is whether the entire case needs to be shelved because of a federal law requiring taxpayers to pay their assessments before challenging a levy’s legality. One federal appeals court, in Richmond, Va., found this law applies to the Affordable Care Act.
That court found that the penalty for noncompliance, which is to be collected by the Internal Revenue Service along with individual tax returns, was similar enough to a tax to fall under the provision. Both the Obama administration and the challengers disagree, but the Supreme Court was sufficiently interested in the question to schedule a hearing anyway and hire an attorney to present the argument.
Of course, it will still be several months until the court issues its rulings on these matters.