US top court questions health care provision

By Steven R. Hurst, AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative justices pointedly challenged the core provision of President Barack Obama’s historic health care law Tuesday, casting constitutional doubt on the measure’s key requirement that all Americans must buy insurance coverage or face a penalty.

The court’s ruling is expected in June, in the middle of the presidential re-election campaign, and will touch the lives of virtually all Americans. Whichever way it decides, the court’s ruling stands to deepen the ideological rift that has increasingly gripped the country during the Obama presidency.

The Obama plan would extend medical insurance to 30 million Americans who go without coverage, either by choice or because they can’t pay the fast-rising premiums in the private insurance marketplace. Obama signed the measure into law two years ago, and it has since been challenged on constitutional grounds by 26 U.S. states and a business organization. Opponents contend the law unconstitutionally extends the power of the federal government.

Before the reforms were signed into law, the United States was the only developed country without a national health care program.

The second of three days of arguments on the constitutionality of the Obama plan focused on whether the so-called insurance mandate “is a step beyond what our cases allow,” in the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often is the swing vote on the nine-judge court.