The individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires all Americans, including healthy ones, to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty fee.
The 26 states led by Florida [and including Idaho], the National Federation of Independent Business and several individuals, challenging the law ask whether the federal government can compel citizens to buy health insurance, reported The New York Times.
Supporters of the reform see the individual mandate as essential for reducing the number of people living without health care by making health care more affordable. It would bring an estimated 32 million Americans into the health care system and reduce costs by spreading them among a larger pool of individuals, according to the Obama administration.
The federal government claims the right to require health care coverage under the powers endowed to Congress to regulate "interstate commerce," said the BBC.
The decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, said that the health care law overstepped Congress' powers by "regulating inactivity and forcing people into the marketplace," said The Times.
Paul D. Clement, representing the challengers of the law, said during the 11th Circuit hearings, "If this is to remain a system of limited and enumerated federal powers that respects individual liberty, accountability and the residual dignity and sovereignty of the states, the individual mandate cannot stand," according to The Times.
The high court convened at 10 a.m. for the second day of hearings, and Reuters noted that the Supreme Court has not struck down a major piece of economic legislation for exceeding congressional power since 1936. Any rulings in the case will likely be handed down in late June, in the midst of the presidential campaign.
Early in the hearing, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "The federal government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers. It’s supposed to be a government of limited powers," according to Bloomberg.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who occupies the ideological middle ground in the high court, said the individual mandate which forces people to act "changes the relationship of the government to the individual in a fundamental way."
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, was grilled by the conservative justices on the bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Scalia, said the Associated Press.
The government's brief to the court said that health care was a unique instance because, "As a class, the uninsured shift tens of billions of dollars of costs for the uncompensated care they receive to other market participants annually. That cost shifting drives up insurance premiums, which, in turn, makes insurance unaffordable to even more people," according to The Washington Post.