The Supreme Court Opens the Road to Health Care Reform, But Will California Meet the Challenge?0

This article, by Craig B. Garner, Esq. and Julie A Simer, Esq., first appeared in the Business Law News of the State Bar of California (Issue 3 2012).

Almost 28 months after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”)[1] into law, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of health care reform.[2]  Though the underlying arguments set forth in the 59-page majority slip opinion venture deep into the labyrinth of constitutional law and test the traditional boundaries of federalism, the holding itself is clear and concise: (1) the ACA’s individual mandate is constitutional;[3] and (2) the Medicaid expansion provisions found within the ACA survive, but the Federal Government is prohibited from penalizing “[s]tates that choose not to participate in [the Medicaid expansion] by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.”[4]   The decision promises to have a dramatic effect on California, as the country’s most populous state.

In ruling that the individual mandate is constitutional, the Court rejected the Commerce Clause[5] and the Necessary and Proper Clause[6] in the Constitution as bases for upholding the mandate. The Court held that the Commerce Clause failed to provide a sufficient nexus between the requirement to purchase health insurance and its anticipated effect on interstate commerce to validate the individual mandate:

No matter how “inherently integrated” health insurance and health care consumption may be, they are not the same thing: They involve different transactions, entered into at different times, with different providers.  And for most of those targeted by the mandate, significant health care needs will be years, or even decades, away.  The proximity and degree of connection between the mandate and the subsequent commercial activity is too lacking to justify an exception . . . .[7]

Chief Justice Roberts noted that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the authority to compel an individual “to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that … failure to do so affects interstate Commerce.” [8]  Likewise, the Court rejected the Necessary and Proper Clause as a means to sustain the individual mandate, finding it was not “an essential component of the insurance reforms.”[9] The Court distinguished previous decisions upholding laws under the Necessary and Proper Clause, because the laws at issue in those cases “involved exercises of authority derivative of, and in service to, a granted power.”   Whereas, the individual mandate would give Congress the ability to create the “necessary predicate to the exercise of an enumerated power.” The Court added:  “Even if the individual mandate is ‘necessary’ to the Act’s insurance reforms, such an expansion of federal power is not a ‘proper’ means for making those reforms effective.[10] … Read more →