The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear legal challenges to the controversial federal health care reform law, President Obama's biggest domestic achievement.
Twenty-six states and the National Federation of Independent Business have challenged the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in March 2010. At issue is the measure's individual mandate, which requires virtually everyone to have health insurance by 2014, or pay a penalty. The court will also consider whether the law can still stand without the mandate.
The court is expected to hear arguments in the spring and issue a ruling by June. Both sides expressed confidence they will prevail.
"We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree," said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, in a press statement.
He also pointed to effects the law already has had.
"Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 1 million more young Americans have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventive services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket, and insurance companies have to spend more of your premiums on health care instead of advertising and bonuses."
Dan Danner, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the court's announcement gives small-business owners hope.
"For the small-business community, this comes not a day too soon," he said in a press statement. "The health care law has not lived up to its promises of reducing costs, allowing citizens to keep their coverage or improving a cumbersome system that has long been a burden to small-business owners and employees, alike."
The individual mandate is a key part of the health care reform law. It lays a foundation for other important provisions. Starting in 2014, health insurance companies cannot deny or exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions. The mandate plays an important role by creating a large enough pool for insurers to spread risk, enabling them to offer the broader coverage.
But opponents say the federal government is overstepping its bounds by requiring people to purchase health insurance.