NATION

Fight over health care law heads to Supreme Court

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The individual insurance mandate "indisputably served as the centerpiece of the delicate compromise that produced" the law, according to the states, with Florida taking the lead.

The administration said in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the law's changes in the insurance market, including requiring insurers to cover people without regard for pre-existing health conditions, would not work without the participation mandate.

The insurance requirement is intended to force healthier people who might otherwise forgo insurance into the pool of insured, helping to reduce private insurers' financial risk.

Both appeals stressed the importance of resolving the overhaul's constitutionality as soon as possible, which under normal court procedures would be by June 2012.

While a decision in that time frame would come in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, the NFIB said it is more important to resolve uncertainty about costs and requirements than drag out consideration into 2013 or beyond.

"When you talk to our members and other small-business owners about what is the biggest problem they're facing, they say uncertainty," said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB's legal division. "When you ask what, one of first answers is the health care law."

Stevens, who retired last year, said his former colleagues would not be affected by the potential impact of their decision on Obama's re-election chances.

"They'll decide it on the law. I'm totally convinced of that," he said.

Obama appointed Stevens' successor, Elena Kagan. Stevens said that if he still had a vote on the court on timing, he would cast it in favor of hearing the case sooner rather than later. He would not say how he would vote on the issue of the law's constitutionality, although he said the court's 6-3 decision in a 2005 case involving medical marijuana seems to lend support to the administration's defense of the law.

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