Bloomberg News

Health-Care Law May Lead to Other Buying Mandates, Clement Says

February 21, 2012

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama’s health-care law, which compels people to buy medical insurance, would give Congress the power to make Americans purchase any other product, said lawyers challenging the measure.

“The next time, it’ll be cars,” said Paul Clement, a Washington lawyer who represents 26 states that have appealed to the high court. “Some people don’t buy cars. They walk.”

At a debate in Washington today, sponsored by Bloomberg Law and Scotusblog, Clement and a second attorney challenging the law clashed with supporters over the reach of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.

The health-care fight may produce one of Supreme Court’s most important rulings on the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The court will hear 5 1/2 hours of argument over three days in late March -- the longest in decades -- and its ruling may affect this year’s presidential election. The court probably will rule in late June.

The central issue is whether Congress can require individuals to buy insurance or pay a penalty. Neal Katyal, a former Obama administration lawyer, said the provision was a legitimate step to prevent people who lack insurance from receiving health care and then leaving the bill to others.

“What Congress is reacting to is not the failure to buy,” Katyal said. “It’s the failure to pay for it.”

The law would expand coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who lack insurance, largely through an expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and by setting up “exchanges,” where consumers will be able to buy insurance.

The cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 11-393; Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, 11-400.

Bloomberg LP is the parent of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg News.

--Editors: Justin Blum, Steven Komarow

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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