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The Facts: The Affordable Care Act, the Constitution and the Courts

Cases challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act are being argued in several courts.

Tomorrow, judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hear arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Four weeks ago, judges in the 4th Circuit heard arguments in two similar cases. Last week, an additional case was argued in the 6th Circuit.

In all of these cases, the plaintiffs may be different, but the arguments they bring to the courthouse are essentially the same. The challenges focus primarily on one provision of the law - people on both sides of the debate agree that the vast majority of the act is clearly constitutional.  And the arguments for overturning the Affordable Care Act are simply without merit.

Opponents of reform claim that the law’s individual responsibility provision exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce because it penalizes “inactivity.” They are wrong. Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are actively making an economic decision that affects all of us. When people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, those with insurance and taxpayers are often left to pick up the tab.

That’s why the Affordable Care Act requires everyone who can afford it to carry some form of health insurance. 83 percent of Americans already have insurance and only those who are able to afford health insurance will be responsible for obtaining it. And the Congressional Budget Office estimated that only 1 percent of all Americans would pay a penalty for not having health insurance in 2016.

The individual responsibility provision also enables us to finally ban discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions. Without the individual responsibility provision, people could wait until they’re sick or injured to apply for coverage since insurance companies could no longer say no or charge more.  That would lead to double digit premiums increases – up to 20% – for everyone in the individual insurance market.

We know that there will be a number of arguments and decisions in courts across the country in the weeks and months ahead and when the legal process ends, we are confident that the Affordable Care Act will be found constitutional.  

Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor.