Parts of Obama healthcare law may be spiked: Justices

Written by Bloomberg | Updated: Mar 30 2012, 06:03am hrs
US Supreme Court justices indicated during three days of arguments that they may reject the centerpiece of President Barack Obamas healthcare overhaulits requirement that Americans obtain insuranceand bring down other parts of the law with it.

The court concluded its hearings on Obamas signature domestic achievement, designed to extend health coverage to 32 million people. After casting doubt the previous day on the insurance mandates survival, they tangled on the final day over the consequences such a ruling would have.

My approach would say, if you take the heart out of the statute, the statutes gone, Justice Antonin Scalia said.

The 2010 healthcare law revamps an industry that accounts for 18% of the US economy. The court hasnt overturned legislation with such sweeping impact since the 1930s. The justices heard more than six hours of arguments starting March 26.

Questions from the bench during Wednesdays hearing on mandatory insurance coverage indicated the justices may split 5- to-4, with the courts five Republican appointees joining to overturn that part of the law.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who most often occupies the courts ideological middle ground, said that by requiring Americans to buy something, the law changes the relationship of the government to the individual in a very fundamental way.

Today the court addressed what should happen to the rest of the law if the insurance mandate is thrown out.

Justices across the ideological spectrum expressed interest in overturning at least the provisions that require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. The Obama administration and the insurance industry say those rules are so closely linked to the mandate that they cant remain without it.

The justices were divided on whether to go further and throw out everything that remains of the health-care law if they void the mandate. The courts four Democratic appointees urged a limited ruling and the Republican appointees offered various levels of support for toppling the remaining provisions.

In a separate session on Thursday, the court heard arguments on the laws expansion of the Medicaid programme for the poor. Justices appointed by Democrats defended Congresss power to expand Medicaid, while those appointed by Republicans expressed support for the argument made by 26 states that they would be unlawfully coerced into participating in the expansion. The justices probably will rule in late June, months before the November election.