Leaders of the United Church of Christ voiced enthusiastic approval today after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care law in a splintered, complex opinion that gives him a major election-year victory.
In essence, justices ruled that the individual mandate – the requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine – is constitutional as a tax. The individual mandate had been the key question for the court.
"The United Church of Christ joins its ecumenical and interfaith partners in applauding the U. S. Supreme Court justices for upholding the Affordable Care Act in its entirety," said Barbara Baylor, UCC minister for health-care justice.
Noting that the UCC has declared prophetically for more than 35 years that health care for all is a priority, Baylor said the court's vote marks a resounding catalyst in moving forward. "We stand together in our conviction that health care is not only a basic human right, but also a human need."
"The Supreme Court decision today is a clear signal that we as a country are moving toward the realm of God on earth – the realm of this merciful, compassionate God, full of love for all," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president.
"Our country was founded on the ideal of caring for one another and tending to the welfare of others. Today's ruling indicates a willingness on everyone's part to be in community with each other and not allow people to be abandoned by the health care delivery system."
Chief Justice John Roberts – a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush – provided the key vote to preserve the landmark health care law, which figures to be a major issue in Obama's re-election bid against Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
Writing the majority opinion, Roberts joined Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in upholding the law. Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The government had argued that Congress had the authority to pass the individual mandate as part of its power to regulate interstate commerce; the court disagreed with that analysis, but preserved the mandate because the fine amounts to a tax that is within Congress' constitutional taxing powers.
Baylor cited a statement by Families USA, a national nonprofit organization that has worked for 30 years to promote high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.
"The individual mandate helps ensure that everyone receives coverage before they get sick," the statement said. "Waiting until they get sick to get coverage only shifts the cost of care onto everyone else. Without the personal responsibility requirement, we will continue to support the status quo that allows insurance premiums to be based on a sicker risk pool, resulting in more expensive premiums for all."
The court ruling will have a major impact on the nation's health care system, the actions of both federal and state governments, and the course of the November presidential and congressional elections.
While the individual mandate remains 18 months away from taking effect, many other provisions of the law are already in effect, such as free wellness exams for seniors and allowing those up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies.
The law is also helping seniors get rebates when they pay for prescription drugs and with the cost of annual check-ups, said Baylor. In addition, women can no longer be charged higher premiums because of their gender.
The Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, cited the familiar story of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel as making a clear case for health care for all.
"Jesus reminds us of what it means to love our neighbor," said Jaramillo. "It means we stop and assist in a caring manner that nurtures the neighbor back to health and wholeness. We take our responsibility as Christians very seriously, which requires that we speak boldly as advocates for the common good."
In a joint release from the ecumenical faith community, members of Faithful Reform in Health Care and the Washington Interreligious Staff Community on Health Care said:
"We commend the Supreme Court for its ability to resist the various political machinations and rule solely on the laws promulgated within our Constitution. We believe this ruling should be an authoritative end to all constitutional challenges.
"As of this ruling, the Affordable Care Act has been politicked and checked and balanced in every branch of government. It has passed. Now it is time for Congress to allow the benefits to reach the people."