WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld nearly all of President Barack Obama's health care law, throwing the issue back into the political realm just a few months before voters pick a president and members of Congress.
With Chief Justice John Roberts joining four liberal colleagues to provide the crucial vote, the court ruled 5 to 4 that Congress could use the power of taxation to require most people to purchase health insurance.
The court struck down the law's mandate on states to cover more low-income people through Medicaid, but states would still have the option to broaden their programs with federal assistance.
The rest of the provisions — including ones allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance, the elimination of lifetime caps on benefits and the prohibition on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions — survived the court's review.
Obama spoke to the nation about two hours after the decision was released, calling it “a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it.”
The president said provisions of the law had already benefited millions of people and that the country couldn't afford to “refight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were.”
Democratic congressional leaders, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who pushed the bill through the House in 2010, also hailed the decision.
But presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and current House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the decision renewed their commitment to repealing the law.
“Our mission is clear: If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama,'' Romney said. “My mission is to make sure we do exactly that.”
Republicans regained control of the House in the elections just months after the health care bill passed and voted in 2011 to repeal the law, but the Democratic-controlled Senate won't take up the issue.
Boehner said Thursday that the decision had strengthened the resolve of Republicans to repeal the law, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the matter had been settled by the court.
In Roberts' opinion, the chief justice acknowledged the divisive debate over the federal power exerted by the law. He said the court must show deference to policy decisions made by elected officials but police the boundaries of legislative power.
“But the court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act,'' the chief justice wrote. “Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”