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Supreme Court Hears First ACA Arguments

MedPageToday, 2012

WASHINGTON -- During the first day of oral arguments on the landmark healthcare reform law, it appeared unlikely that a federal tax law will bar the Supreme Court from ruling on the case.
The Supreme Court kicked off its much-awaited oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with first hearing the one issue that both sides agree on.
That issue centers on an 1867 federal law called the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits a lawsuit from being brought over a particular tax until that tax actually takes effect.
Under the ACA, everyone is required to have health insurance starting in 2014, or else pay a penalty in 2015.
If the court were to decide the Anti-Injunction Act bars the issue from being heard now, the Supreme Court could postpone a decision on the controversial healthcare law until after 2015.
Both sides -- the Obama administration and the 26 states suing the federal government -- agree that the old tax law doesn't apply to the ACA and shouldn't stand in the way of a court ruling on the case, which is expected in June.
Most of the Supreme Court justices who asked questions during the 90-minute arguments Tuesday morning seemed to indicate that they didn't think the penalty levied on those who don't purchase health insurance amounts to a tax.
Since , the Supreme Court appointed a lawyer, Robert Long, to argue that the Anti-Injunction Act does apply.
The arguments by Long and the other attorneys were watched by hundreds of viewers in the packed courtroom, including several lawmakers and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"The Anti-Injunction Act imposes a 'pay first, litigate later' rule that is central to federal tax assessment and collection," Long argued.
There is no reason to think that Congress made a special exception" for the Affordable Care Act, he said.