The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision this morning (June 28, 2012), upheld President Obama's health care law, declaring the individual mandate constitutional as a tax.
The requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine starting in 2014 has been the most unpopular and controversial element of the health care law.
Chief Justice John Roberts provided the key vote to preserve the landmark law. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The government had argued that Congress had the authority to pass the individual mandate as part of its power to regulate interstate commerce. The court disagreed, instead preserving the mandate because the fine amounts to a tax. Opponents believed the mandate to be unconstitutional, arguing that if the federal government could compel people to buy health insurance",it could compel them to buy almost anything", the New York Times reported.
Roberts wrote in the decision that the penalty's "practical characteristics pass muster as a tax under our narrowest interpretations of the taxing power", the Wall Street Journal reported. A person who does not wish to carry health insurance is left with a "lawful choice to do or not do a certain act, so long as he is willing to pay a tax levied on that choice", wrote Roberts.
Political observers are calling the ruling a victory for President Obama. Most of the law was upheld, but the justices also found fault with expansion of Medicaid, making some changes there. Under the ruling, states have some flexibility not to expand their Medicaid programs, without paying the same financial penalties written into the law, the New York Times reported.