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US Supreme Court begins health hearing

26th March 2012

The US Supreme Court began on Monday to hear arguments for and against the landmark healthcare reforms of President Barack Obama.

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In a case which will have a huge impact on the political life of the country ahead of the 2012 presidential elections, nine justices of the highest court in America will hear three days of arguments on various aspects of the ground-breaking legislation, which is being challenged as being unconstitutional by critics.

The proposals have split the country and polarised opinion since their inception at the beginning of Obama's term in office.

If upheld, they will provide health insurance to around 32 million people who are currently uninsured, but have been roundly criticised as intruding on people's civil liberties, because they make the purchase of insurance compulsory for those covered by the plan.

While the Supreme Court typically spends around one hour hearing oral arguments in the cases it reviews, in this case, it has set aside six hours to hear views from supporters and opponents of the Affordable Care Act, in what is reported to be the longest hearing in 45 years.

Some supporters camped outside the Court building on Monday to make their views known, including 26-year-old computer technician Jasper Johnson, who said the idea of healthcare for everyone was "very important." He said he was there to represent "the economy as a whole."

Republicans have lambasted the scheme. Mitt Romney, currently a president hopeful for the 2012 elections, has referred to it as an "unfolding disaster" for the US economy.

Conservatives have bombarded the mainstream media with opinion pieces on the Act, saying that the costs of the plan far outweigh the benefits, while Republican senator Mitch McConnell has described it as "a metaphor for all of the excesses" of Obama's administration.

If the court strikes down any part of the reforms, the political repercussions will be enormous, especially for Obama, whose presidency would be judged as having achieved little.

While the law was enacted in 2010, it will not come fully into force until 2014.

It is the culmination of years of campaigning by Democrats to achieve a more equitable provision of healthcare for Americans, and if it survives the Supreme Court test, could be judged to be Obama's greatest accomplishment.

Its critics have slammed it as an intrusion on personal liberty, and say they will repeal it if they win the presidential election in November.

The law, if upheld, will require all U.S. residents to buy personal health insurance beginning in 2014. Those who do not comply will be fined.

Virginia attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli said the move was dangerous, because it would set a precedent for state compulsion in other areas of life.

Virginia is one of 28 US states currently trying to overturn the Act, which also bans insurance companies from refusing to insure people who have a pre-existing or chronic condition, who are currently either rejected for coverage or asked to pay much larger premiums than other people.

They will also be required to include more types of coverage, including the costs of contraception.

Opponents of the law say that Congress exceeded its constitutional powers when it was passed, although the US Justice Department has already argued that Congress is allowed under the constitution to tax citizens and to regulate commerce.

Among its chief supporters is solicitor general Donald Verrilli, who is scheduled to make the case for the law's legitimacy during the Supreme Court hearings.

Audio recordings of the debates inside the courtroom will be released to the public on the same day, in a contest which some say has taken on the flavour of a major sporting event.


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