Supreme Court upholds health care law's mandate

The U.S. Supreme Courtupheld the constitutionality of President Obama's health care law Thursday, ruling that the government may impose tax penalties on people who do not have health insurance.

The court's long-awaited ruling rejected a broad legal attack on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act brought by Republican state officials and the National Federation of Independent Business.

The legal challenge focused on the law's so-called mandate that all must have insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty.

The administration defended this requirement under Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. The challengers insisted the mandate was unprecedented and unconstitutional because the federal government would be forcing Americans to buy a private product.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority.

"Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," he concluded. The conservative Roberts joined the four most liberal justices to uphold the law's key provision.

The ruling was not a total victory for the Obama administration.

Roberts said the required expansion of Medicaid violates states' rights and may be unconstitutional.

"The states are given no choice in this case. They must either accept a basic change in the nature of Medicaid or risk losing all Medicaid funding," he wrote.

He said the federal government cannot require the states to follow this part of the law.

Initial projections show about 84,000 Marylanders would have gained coverage through Medicaid's expansion in the first year, according to the Governor's Office of Health Reform.

Roberts' opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered a dissent for Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas andSamuel A. Alito Jr.

Obama said the ruling was a victory for the American people, and promised to implement it and improve upon it going forward.

"The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law and we'll work together to improve on it where we can," Obama said at the White House.

"What we won't do — what the country can't afford to do — is re-fight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were. With today's announcement, it's time for us to move forward."

During an appearance in Washington Thursday, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, "This is the time of choice for the American people. If you don't want the course that President Obama has put us on, if you want instead a course that the Founders envisioned, then join me in this effort. Help us. Help us defeat Obamacare."

In Maryland, which has an estimated 750,000 uninsured residents, state leaders aggressively worked to implement several aspects of the health care law.

Gov. Martin O'Malleyand Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brownsaid, "Today's decision gives considerable momentum to our health care reform efforts here in Maryland.

"In upholding the Affordable Care Act, theU.S. Supreme Courtchose to protect the lives of millions of Marylanders and millions of Americans," they said in a joint statement. "American businesses will be more competitive in the global economy with lower health care costs and a healthier workforce. Parents will be able to keep their children on their health care plans until age 26. Seniors will avoid the Medicare Donut Hole. And by 2014, no American will be denied health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition."