Students take sides in legal battle over health care reform

2 min read

Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear challenges to the constitutionality of the landmark health care reform law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On February 2, the law was tested by HSPH students in a public health law class taught by Professor Michelle Mello.

“It’s the most significant piece of public health legislation in a lifetime,” Mello said. Students have been following the law’s developments with keen interest, so Mello chose to open the session of her class devoted to a case study on the ACA legal battle to the broader HSPH student population. A packed audience gathered in Kresge G-3 to hear Mello outline the background of the law and its legal challenges. Her students, previously assigned to represent either the plaintiffs (a group of 26 states and an independent business group) or the federal government, then proceeded to make their case.

Four key issues will be on the table when the justices hear oral arguments on March 26-28, 2012: the constitutionality of both the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to obtain health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty, and the expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income individuals; whether the mandate is severable from the rest of the law; and whether the penalty for failure to comply with the mandate can be considered a tax. If so, then an obscure law called the Anti-Injunction Act, which prevents people from suing to prevent the collection of a federal tax until the tax actually takes effect, may be invoked to block the legal challenges until 2015.