With protesters chanting outside, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on the fate of President Barack Obama’s historic healthcare overhaul — no less controversial two years after Democrats pushed it to passage in Congress.
Some 26 states are leading the legal challenge, while Republican presidential candidates are vowing to repeal it after throwing Obama out of office.
The law, much of which has still to take effect, would require almost all Americans to obtain health insurance and would extend coverage to more than 30m people who now lack it.
Critics say its requirement that people buy insurance intrudes on civil liberties.
The law would be the largest expansion in the nation’s social safety net in more than four decades. Nine justices began hearing arguments as outside the court, hundreds of pro and against protesters chanted.
A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of an election campaign in which all of Obama’s Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal, if the high court does not strike it down first.
People waited in line all weekend for the relatively few seats open to the public. The justices allotted the case six hours of argument time — the most since the mid-1960s.
The biggest issue before the court is argument over the constitutionality of the individual insurance requirement. The states and the National Federation of Independent Business say Congress lacked authority under the Constitution for its unprecedented step of forcing Americans to buy insurance whether they want it or not.
The administration argues Congress has ample authority to do what it did. If its action was rare, it is only because Congress was dealing with a problem that has stymied Democratic and Republican administrations for many decades: how to get adequate healthcare to as many people as possible, and at a reasonable cost.
The justices also will take up whether the rest of the law can remain in place if the insurance mandate falls and, separately, whether Congress lacked the power to expand the Medicaid scheme to cover 15m low-income people who earn too much to qualify.
If upheld, the law will force dramatic changes in the way insurance companies do business in the US.
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