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National Restaurant Association - Healthcare watch: Court to decide future of law

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Healthcare watch: Court to decide future of law

This is the first in a series of blog posts on the healthcare law and the restaurant industry. The articles are written by Michelle Reinke Neblett, the National Restaurant Association's director of labor and workforce policy.

 The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of some segments of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — most notably the mandate that most individuals must purchase health insurance or be fined.

The Court chose to consider four questions that could determine whether the law stands:

1. Is the consequence for not complying with the individual mandate a tax or penalty? If a tax, the Court cannot rule on the case until it is paid — in 2015.

2. Is the individual mandate unconstitutional? Can individuals be required to purchase health insurance or face fines for noncompliance?

3. If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional, is it severable from the rest of the law? Or does the entire law fall? Maybe it's just the individual mandate that falls, or the mandate plus guaranteed issue and community rating? That would force healthy individuals to subsidize the health-care costs of higher-risk consumers. Similarly, guaranteed issue world require insurers to approve coverage for all individuals.

4. Is the expansion of Medicaid, which would permit coverage for everyone with incomes of less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, unconstitutional? If so, can it be stricken?

Severability would seriously affect restaurants. The reason: the Court chose not to directly consider the constitutionality of the employer mandate. For the employer mandate to fall, either the individual mandate or Medicaid expansion must be found unconstitutional and bring the rest of the law down with it. An article recently published in FLAME magazine explained the industry's position in favor of severability.

While an outcome cannot be assumed based on the Justices' line of questioning, we can analyze the arguments for possible industry impact. The National Restaurant Association, along with lawyers representing the association before the Supreme Court, will present a webinar for members on the topic Thursday, March 29, at 3 p.m. Eastern. Email us at healthcarereform@restaurant.org and let us know what you think about the law.

For more information on the health care law, go to our Health Care Knowledge Center.

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