Administration defends health-law changes

Posted: January 08, 2012

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration defended the health-care overhaul in a filing Friday with the Supreme Court that calls the law an appropriate response to a "crisis" in the health-care market.

The administration filed a written submission in the court's biggest case this term, with the potential to affect President Obama's reelection bid.

The government called on the court to uphold the core requirement that individuals buy insurance or pay a penalty. One federal appeals court struck down the so-called individual mandate as exceeding Congress' power under the Constitution. But two other federal appeals courts upheld the law and agreed with the administration's argument that Congress was well within its power to adopt that requirement.

Florida and 25 other states, including Pennsylvania, as well as the National Federation of Independent Business, told the court in separate briefs that if the justices strike down the individual requirement, they should invalidate the rest of the law as well. Thirty-six Republican senators echoed the states' argument in their own filing.

The law is aimed at extending health insurance coverage to more than 30 million previously uninsured people and would, by 2019, leave just 5 percent of the population uninsured, compared with about 17 percent today, according to the Congressional Budget Office. About half of the increase would come from the individual requirement; the rest would come from an expansion of Medicaid and other provisions.

The health-care law has drawn intense opposition from Republicans; the party's presidential candidates have all vowed to repeal it if elected. The individual insurance requirement has been a lightning rod because it requires people to buy a product from a private insurer or pay a penalty.

But the administration said the requirement falls within Congress' power under the Constitution's Commerce Clause because health care is an issue of supreme national importance that consumes nearly 18 percent of the U.S. economy.

People may lack insurance, but they still get health care, and the costs get passed on the insured, the administration said.

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