Today's historic Supreme Court arguments on health care reform suggest that the court may be ready to strike down the provision requiring Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty.

Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested the mandate "is a step beyond" what would be allowed under earlier Supreme Court cases. He also said that allowing the mandate would "change the relationship" between the government and U.S. citizens. But at another point, he acknowledged the complexity of paying for America's health care needs.



He and Chief Justice John Roberts appear to be the pivotal votes in the decision. And during today's arguments, Roberts wondered aloud what Americans might be required to purchase next, if they can be required to buy health insurance.

The court's four Democratic appointees appeared ready to uphold the requirement.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she found the debate over health care similar to the debate from years ago about the Social Security retirement system. She asked how Congress could be able to compel workers to pay into Social Security, but not have the same ability to address health care.

Attorney Paul Clement, representing Florida and 25 other states challenging the law, acknowledged that a system of national health insurance might well be constitutional.

Loss of insurance mandate wouldn't kill health law

President Barack Obama's health care law would not collapse if the Supreme Court strikes down the unpopular requirement that most Americans carry medical insurance or face a penalty.

Experts say the overhaul would lurch ahead.

But it would make an already complicated law a lot harder to carry out, risking repercussions for a U.S. health care system widely seen as wasteful, unaffordable and unable to deliver consistently high quality.

Premiums could jump for people buying coverage individually, and for small businesses. That's because other provisions of the law require insurance companies to accept people with health problems, and limit the premiums that can be charged to older adults.

Sooner or later, the dilemma of the nation's 50 million uninsured would land back on the doorstep of Congress.



(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)