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Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare's Individual Mandate

Russ Jones | ReligionToday.com Contributor | Friday, June 29, 2012
Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare's Individual Mandate

Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare's Individual Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare,” Thursday. In a 5-4 split decision, Chief Justice John Roberts unexpectedly cast the dissenting vote, joining the liberal flank of the court.

The overhaul radically affects how Americans will pay for and receive medical care. The four more liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the majority vote.

The conservative wing of the court, justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, dissented. Kennedy, who many anticipated to be the swing vote, gave a blistering denouncement of the ruling from the bench.

Christian Groups Weigh In On the Ruling

A raucous crowd of several hundred protesters and supporters anxiously gathered outside the Supreme Court awaiting the justices’ ruling. For those watching across the country on television, the news finally came as both CNN and Fox News jumped the gun, wrongly reporting the individual mandate portion of the health care law had been overturned.

Once the ruling was clarified, various Christian leaders expressed both disappointment and pleasure with the court’s decision.

The nation's largest faith-based association of physicians, the Christian Medical Association (CMA) criticized the ruling, saying the decision threatens healthcare choice and "sounds an alarm across the country to people with faith-based and pro-life convictions."

"The high court unfortunately could not muster enough justices willing to uphold the Constitutional principles of limited government and separation of powers that have guided our nation since its founding,” said CMA CEO Dr. David Stevens. “This ruling sounds an alarm across the country to people with faith-based and pro-life convictions, to poor patients who depend on physicians with these values and to all patients who value choosing their own health care.”

The Family Research Council (FRC), who has been at the forefront of the healthcare debate, contends the U.S. Supreme Court's decision is nothing more than a government takeover.

"The Supreme Court has today given the federal government unlimited authority to use its tax power to require Americans to engage in specific commercial activity. The obvious implication is chilling: Uncle Sam can make you buy anything, at any price, for any reason," said legal counsel Ken Klukowski. "That's why today, the American dream gave way to a real American nightmare. President Obama's vow about 'fundamentally transforming the United States of America ' was fulfilled. The Supreme Court essentially said it cannot articulate any limiting principle on the power of the federal government.”

The liberal-leaning National Council of Churches (NCC) said it “welcomes” the Supreme Courts decision. "The member communions of the National Council of Churches have supported readily available health care since we were formed in 1950 during the Truman Administration," said Kathryn M. Lohre, NCC president. "We as churches follow the bold example of Jesus, who healed the sick, sometimes breaking the religious law that governed society," Lohre said.

In February 2009, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners magazine, was not only appointed to that new entity, but has served as a religious adviser to President Obama. Wallis calls the decision an important victory for millions of uninsured people in the country and ultimately a triumph of the common good.

“This past week, I’ve watched the endless political pre-coverage of the Supreme Court decision, and I was struck first by the poor quality of the questions being asked,” said Wallis. “Now that the decision has been made, the pontification is just as bad. We need to be focused on those who are left out and left behind, not who is up or down in politics and the polls.”

How It Works

The individual mandate is the centerpiece of the complex 2,700-page health care law. The court's four liberal justices agreed that it, indeed, is constitutional for the federal government to force citizens to purchase health insurance. Furthermore, it is within the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but Roberts disagreed, and wrote that the mandate is actually a tax.

January 1, 2014 launches the beginning of the most severe enforcement of the nation's new healthcare law. For Americans who don’t comply with the new law a $285 penalty per family or 1 percent of annual income will be accessed, whichever is greater. By 2016, it goes up to $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of annual income.

Now that the law has been upheld, beginning in 2014, the law makes it illegal for any health insurance plan to use pre-existing conditions to exclude, limit or charge higher premiums on coverage.

The Affordable Health Care Act also requires insurers to cover the children of those they insure up to age 26. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that from September 2010 to June 2011, the percentage of adults 19 to 25 with insurance coverage increased from 64 percent to 73 percent, which translates into 2.5 million additional young adults with coverage.

Not the Last Word

Leading into Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, Rasmussen Reports found 54 percent of those polled want to see the law repealed, a number virtually unchanged from the law's passage in March 2010. The public opinion polling company contends the dynamics have remained the same throughout as well. Most Democrats oppose repeal, while most Republicans and unaffiliated voters support it.

Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate, an organization that encourages faithful Catholics to actively participate in the political process, was at the Supreme Court at the time of its decision. He urges Congress to act immediately to repair the critical flaws in the health care law and begin to replace them with measured, sensible reforms.

"Our work is not done. We must remain vigilant,” said Smith. “The fight goes on. If this ruling outrages faithful Catholics, they have an opportunity in November to affect decisions in Washington, D.C. If Catholics want different policy, change the policy makers."

Alice Stewart, spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a coalition of conservative women which promotes Biblical values and family traditions, said the last word on the Supreme Court decision would come in November’s general election.

“It is time for people to stand up, especially women, and make sure that leaders are elected at the statehouse and all the way up to the White House that reflect their family values,” said Stewart. “We must now fight to repeal Obamacare.”

Russ Jones is a 25-year award winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites, such as ChristianPress.com, and a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected].

Publication date: June 28, 2012