SCOTUS health care ruling based on tax issues

President Obama's heatlh care law upheld

HIGHLAND HTS, Ky. - The case was about medical insurance, but the decision was based on constitutional taxing issues.

That's the opinion of many legal experts about Thursday's Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

One of them was John Bickers, Constitutional Law Professor at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.

The law requires all qualified people to have health insurance coverage starting in 2014 or be fined.  It's how that is enforced that Bickers said was the heart of the high court's ruling.

"What does it mean when Congress says you have to do something?" he asked.  "Do they enforce it by saying if you don't do it you go to jail?  Or do they enforce it by some other mechanism?"

In this case, legislators said if you don't purchase coverage, you will have to pay a penalty submitted with your income tax form to the Internal Revenue Service.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion that Congress couldn't require coverage under the commerce clause.

"They couldn't make it a federal crime not to have health care insurance in the way that it's a federal crime to purchase marijuana or cocaine," Bickers said.  "But, they are perfectly authorized to say we're going to endeavor to change your behavior by raising your taxes if you don't do what the government wants."

Bickers said it's similar to those who suggested that if the government can force people to buy health insurance, they can also make people purchase foods like broccoli.

"The way the opinion comes out, Congress can't make you buy broccoli if the idea is if you don't buy it, you will go to jail," he said.  "On the other hand, Congress could say we'd like a tax deduction for buying more vegetables."

Because the health care law was upheld, Bickers said it's not that groundbreaking a ruling.  He added it would have been if the law.

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