Following months of speculation, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its much-anticipated decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature legislative achievement. In a 5 to 4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts as the tie-breaker, the court ruled in favor of the individual mandate. It is a significant win for President Obama, who, sometimes to the dismay of his own party, spent a good deal of political capital on pushing the legislation through.
Obama was relatively restrained in his response to the decision, considering how hard-won it was.
"I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this, about who won and who lost. That’s how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington," he said. "But that discussion completely misses the point. Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it."
The president also spoke about some of the law's provisions that Americans enjoy including allowing children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26. But moving forward, both he and Democratic lawmakers will have to do a far better job explaining and defending the law, which a majority of Americans continue to view unfavorably.
Though the Supreme Court handed Obama a huge win, it also gave Republicans an issue the party will relentlessly hammer from now until November. Mitt Romney and House Republican leaders have vowed to repeal the law one way or another.
“What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare," Romney said. "What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy."
The central issue the nine justices had to consider was the constitutionality of the law's mandate requiring all individuals to have health insurance. Scheduled to go into effect in 2014, it not only ensured that tens of millions of uninsured Americans would receive coverage, but, according to the Obama administration, it also made doing so more affordable by spreading the risk for insurance companies. Eliminating the individual mandate, the administration has argued, would put key parts of the legislation at peril, including popular provisions such as free preventive care services, allowing adult children to remain on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 and a prohibition against denying an individual coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver applauded the court's ruling, in part because of how much African-Americans can benefit from health care reform.
"As members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we endured hateful attacks and contentious meetings, but remained steadfast in our commitment and efforts to reform our healthcare system. Before the Affordable Care Act, 1 in 5 African-Americans lacked health insurance, one of the highest rates for any community," he said. "Since March 2009, 2.4 million African-Americans seniors with Medicare have received free preventive services. Another 5.5 million African-Americans with private health insurance now have expanded coverage for preventive services at no additional cost. 410,000 African-American young adults who would otherwise be uninsured have gained coverage due to the Affordable Care Act."
In the weeks leading up to the decision, some Republican congressional lawmakers appeared to recognize that the GOP would have to come up with a health-care proposal that that would keep intact certain measures if the high court struck down the law. Still, the party is divided, with some saying that government should play no role in this area.
Additionally, three major insurers, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Humana, decided that they would voluntarily continue with some of the provisions regardless of the how the Supreme Court ruled.
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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)