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Fight over health care law heads to Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Raising prospects for a major election-year ruling, the Obama administration launched its Supreme Court defense of its landmark health care overhaul Wednesday, appealing what it called a "fundamentally flawed" appeals court decision that declared the law's central provision unconstitutional.

Destined from the start for a high court showdown, the health care law affecting virtually every American seems sure to figure prominently in President Barack Obama's campaign for re-election next year. Republican contenders are already assailing it in virtually every debate and speech.

The administration formally appealed a ruling by the federal appeals court in Atlanta that struck down the law's core requirement that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014.

At the same time, however, the winners in that appellate case, 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, also asked for high court review Wednesday, saying the entire law, and not just the individual insurance mandate, should be struck down.

The Supreme Court almost always weighs in when a lower court has struck down all or part of a federal law, to say nothing of one that aims to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans.

The bigger question had been the timing. The administration's filing makes it more likely that the case will be heard and decided in the term that begins next week.

Repeating arguments it has made in courts across the country in response to many challenges to the law, the administration said Congress was well within its constitutional power to enact the insurance requirement.

Disagreeing with that, the 26 states and business group said in their filings that the justices should act before the 2012 presidential election because of uncertainty over costs and requirements.

On the issue of timing, their cause got an unexpected boost from retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who said voters would be better off if they knew the law's fate law before casting their ballots next year.

The 91-year-old Stevens said in an Associated Press interview that the justices would not shy away from deciding the case in the middle of a presidential campaign and would be doing the country a service. "It would be better to have that known about than be speculated as a part of the political argument," Stevens said in his Supreme Court office overlooking the Capitol.

Though the Atlanta appeals court struck down the individual insurance requirement, it upheld the rest of the law. The states and the business group say that would still impose huge new costs.

In another challenge to the same law, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati sided with the administration. In a separate Supreme Court filing Tuesday night, the Obama administration said it does not appear necessary to grant review of the Cincinnati case and the government added that consolidating the two cases could complicate the presentation of arguments "without a sufficient corresponding benefit."

The law would extend health coverage mainly through subsidies to purchase private insurance and an expansion of Medicaid. The states object to the Medicaid expansion and a provision forcing them to cover their employees' health care at a level set by the government.

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