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Supreme Court Hearings on the Affordable Care Act: What to Expect

All eyes will be on the U.S. Supreme Court this week as it holds hearings on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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U.S. Supreme Court: Health Reform

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit brought against the federal government by Texas and 25 other states that questions the constitutionality of several key aspects of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Texas Tribune and KTRK-TV in Houston have partnered to cover these proceedings by showing you how the law has already affected some residents and by curating content that explains what's at stake for nearly 6 million Texans who remain uninsured.

For nearly two years, intense rhetoric — from many sides — has surrounded President Obama’s federal health reform law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. GOP-friendly Texas never warmed to the changes passed by a Congress dominated by Democrats at the time.  On the same day Obama signed the bill into law, Texas joined 12 other states in filing a lawsuit against the administration, challenging the constitutionality of a major provision in the legislation known as the individual mandate. It requires nearly all American citizens to buy health insurance. Those who cannot afford to pay for their benefits can receive subsidies from the government; those who refuse to comply face a penalty.

Two courts have upheld the provision. Another has struck it down; a fourth did not want to rule before the 2014 deadline for enforcing the mandate.

This week, all eyes will be on the Supreme Court as it sets aside six hours over three days to hear oral arguments from both sides of the issue. There’s a lot at stake for Texas, which has the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the country. Attorney General Greg Abbott is scheduled to appear at the hearings, but he will not argue for the plaintiffs. Here’s what we can expect:

Today: The court will consider whether the fact that a taxation provision in the Affordable Care Act doesn't go into effect until 2014 means the current legal challenge is premature. The justices have allotted 90 minutes for arguments.

Tuesday: The court will review the individual mandate issue and whether Congress has the authority to enact it. The justices have allotted two hours for arguments.

Wednesday: The court will review two legal questions. First, justices will consider the National Federation of Independent Business’ question of whether the Affordable Care Act can be enacted without the mandate. The justices have allotted 90 minutes for arguments. Then, they’ll take up the states’ question of whether Congress overextends its authority when it forces states to accept “onerous conditions that it could not impose directly by threatening to withhold all federal funding for noncompliance.” The justices have set aside one hour for this issue.

There will be plenty of national news coverage over the coming days. The Texas Tribune has partnered with KTRK-TV in Houston to address how the Affordable Care Act is specifically affecting Texans. Tonight on Eyewitness News at 6 in Houston, investigative reporter Ted Oberg will tell the story of how one of the law's provisions eliminates lifetime caps on insurance policies — and helped a local couple save their son's life. We'll also post the story here when it's available. 


For your reference, here's the Supreme Court's official page containing all legal briefs related to the hearings. In addition, here's a Storify timeline by Kaiser Health News that explains key Affordable Care Act moments since 2010. And here's the federal government site dedicated to explaining how the law has "benefited" Texans. Critics, including the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, remain skeptical of the legislation and warn of the possible impact on businesses. Others, like the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, argue that the reform is helping those who badly need health care. The National Conference of State Legislatures is also keeping close tabs on the hearings, including this page dedicated to posting information about various state challenges to health reform. Finally, take a look at the Tribune's Health Reform topic page to see our past coverage of this issue.

Check back with the Tribune on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. We’ll be culling stories and perspectives on the Supreme Court hearings ... with a Texas bent, of course.

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