The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday its intention to review the challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The law has been challenged by 26 state governments, and the court will likely hear oral arguments in March, with a final ruling by late June. The primary issue behind the lawsuits centers on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which serves a critical role in the design of the reformed insurance market. However, the court also agreed to consider the law’s Medicaid expansion. Because the individual mandate is intertwined with so many other provisions in the law, the court’s ruling will have an enormous impact on health policy in the coming years. Mark Hall, law professor at Wake Forest University Medical School, will lead a discussion on the constitutional challenges to the ACA during the 2012 National Health Policy Conference, February 13-14 in Washington, D.C. “For constitutional law, this is the case of the decade.  For health policy and law, it may well be the case of the century,” Hall stated. Many policy analysts aren’t surprised that the court has agreed to hear the challenges, but the amount of time dedicated to arguments – more than five hours – and the addition of the Medicaid expansion issue reinforce the fact that the case is extremely important to health policy in 2012. Obviously, the June decision falls at a critical point in the implementation timeline. “Upholding the law will put a lot of wind in the sails of implementation, leading into the November presidential election.  Striking major portions or all of the law would obviously bring implementation to either a crashing halt, or a limp, pending any possible congressional fixes, which almost certainly could not occur until 2013,” Hall explained. “But, it’s also possible we’ll receive a non-decision, if several justices conclude the suit is premature. That would continue the uncomfortable legal limbo we’re in now for another two years.” Hall will be joined on the National Health Policy Conference panel by Tim Jost, of Washington and Lee University, and Wendy Mariner, from the Boston University School of Public Health. They will discuss the key issues the court will consider, as well as the implications for the research and policy communities in 2012. In advance of the conference, the panelists would like to hear from our readers about their questions and concerns about the constitutional challenges, so we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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