A very important and high-profile Supreme Court decision in recent weeks has been its ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," on June 28, 2012. In this case, officially titled National Federation of Independent Businesses, et al v. Sebelius, et al, the Court heard a challenge to the "individual mandate" provision of the Affordable Health Care Act. This provision, in short, requires most Americans to have health care insurance, or to pay a fine (or a tax, as the Court would eventually rule) to the Internal Revenue Service. The Act also required states to meet its requirements, or forfeit its federal Medicare funding. The Supreme Court upheld a federal circuit court's decision that the Medicare provision was constitutional, but overturned that same court's ruling that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. In a 5-4 decision the Court held that the individual mandate was constitutional under Congress's taxation powers as ennumerated in the Constitution.
It is difficult to know precisely what the impact of the ruling will be, particularly in advance of the 2012 elections, the results of which could affect the enforcement of the law. Many observers agree, however, that the individual mandate was the linchpin of the Act, because it is the means by which the federal government will pay for additional individuals who will enter the health care system. Additionally, future challenges to the law will probably have to be legislative, as the Court's ruling was clear as to its constitutionality. Some have argued that the ruling means that many people who may not have had healthcare coverage will receive it, and, in one of the law's most immediate provisions, that insurance companies cannot turn down people, including children for preexisting conditions. It is difficult to know, however, whether these provisions would have been voided by a ruling that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Either way, it was a landmark decision.