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Supreme Court promises to tackle Affordable Care Act next spring Posted: November 29th, 2011

By Maryalene LaPonsie

After a year of discussion and debate by lower courts, the Supreme Court has said it will hear arguments on the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The high court has set aside five and a half hours to hear arguments in March. Justices say they expect to rule on the constitutionality of the law by July 4, 2012.

Can Congress require health insurance coverage?

The central question surrounding the legislation is whether Congress has overstepped its authority by requiring all U.S. residents to maintain health insurance coverage by 2014.

The White House argues that the medical insurance mandate falls under Congress's ability to regulate interstate commerce. Opponents say the government has no authority to compel individuals to enter into private contracts with health insurance companies.

Four appellate courts have taken up the issue, and three found the act to be constitutional while one ruled Congress could not mandate health insurance coverage. With the lower courts split, the Supreme Court will provide the final decision on whether major provisions of the act will stand.

White House applauds decision

The White House applauded the Supreme Court's decision to take up the case.

"Earlier this year, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to consider legal challenges to the health reform law, and we are pleased the court has agreed to hear this case," said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, in a statement.

Should the medical insurance mandate be found unconstitutional, the Supreme Court would then need to determine whether the other provisions of the law also would need to be repealed.

The Affordable Care Act represents one of the most significant shifts in domestic health care policy since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Many of the act's provisions, such as the creation of state-run high-risk health insurance pools and the elimination of pre-existing condition exclusion periods for children, already have gone into effect.