Supreme Court Ready for Oral Argument; Seyfarth to Host Webinar

Three crucial days at the end of March, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on legal challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), may determine the future scope of government involvement in healthcare in the United States. Immediately following the Supreme Court oral arguments taking place March 26-28, members of Seyfarth Shaw's Health Care Reform Team will provide analysis on the arguments in a webinar, which we invite you to attend.

Final briefs by the parties and others interested in the case are due to the Supreme Court today, March 13, 2012. The Supreme Court has set aside an unprecedented six hours for oral arguments in the landmark case challenging various elements of the health care reform law:

  • Individual Mandate. Whether Congress acted within its Constitutional authority by requiring individuals to either obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage beginning in 2014 or be penalized.

    Under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, Congress can regulate economic activity that is in the stream of, or substantially affects, interstate commerce. The PPACA challengers argue that a decision to not purchase health insurance is not activity, but rather inactivity, which Congress has no Constitutional authority to regulate. In defending PPACA, the federal government argues that a decision to not purchase health insurance substantially affects interstate commerce because everyone will need health care at some point in their lives and the cost of health care for the uninsured is shifted to the government and insured individuals through increased costs and premiums.
  • Severability. Whether, if the individual mandate is found unconstitutional, all of the rest of PPACA must be struck down, or only the individual mandate.

PPACA challengers argue this issue hinges on whether the remaining provisions of the law can function "in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress" in passing the law. The challengers argue that PPACA was designed by Congress as an integrated remedy to the shortcomings of the national health care coverage system, and striking down only part of the law would leave in place an unbalanced regime that would not function as intended and would likely exacerbate the very problems Congress sought to resolve. Seyfarth Shaw submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of the National Restaurant Association in support of this position. Click here for a copy of the brief.

The federal government now concedes that if the individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional, the guaranteed-issue and community-rating requirements of PPACA, which impact insurers, should also be struck down. But the federal government also argues that the remainder of the PPACA provisions (which would include the employer mandate) should remain, arguing these other provisions can operate independently of the individual mandate and would still advance Congress's core goals of expanding coverage, improving public health, and controlling costs.

  • Medicaid Expansion. Whether Congress exceeded its Constitutional authority in expanding Medicaid under PPACA to require states to offer benefits to anyone under 65 with income up to 133% of the poverty level.
  • Timeliness. Whether the Supreme Court can even decide this issue now under the Anti-Injunction Act, which generally provides that individuals who wish to challenge a federal tax first pay the tax and then bring suit for a refund.

These issues will be discussed in-depth at the webinar scheduled on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

This is the thirty-fifth issue in our health care reform series of alerts for employers on selected topics in health care reform and supplements Issue 29. (Our general summary of health care reform and other issues in this series can be accessed by clicking here.) This series of Health Care Reform Management Alerts is designed to provide a more in-depth analysis of certain aspects of health care reform and how it will impact your employer-sponsored plans.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.