A chart of the total health expenditure per capita, U.S. and selected countries, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2008.

Jeremy Hobson: Can the government force Americans to buy health insurance? That's the big question at the Supreme Court today, as the justices consider constitutional challenges to President Obama's health care law.

Marketplace's health care reporter Gregory Warner is on the case in Washington this morning and he joins us now. Good morning.

Gregory Warner: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: You're heading over to the Supreme Court pretty soon. What's going to happen today?

Warner: Well, today is the big day. Today, the Supreme Court looks at the least popular part of the health care law, which is the individual mandate. This is, of course, the rule that everybody buy insurance if they don't have it already. The government's going to make the case that they need to be able to regulate this market; they need to get healthy people to join that pool, because that's how the costs are spread in health insurance. And states are going to say: well, listen, the government can't tell us to buy something -- then they could tell us to buy anything.

Hobson: And I know that one of the arguments that people are making that the individual mandate is constitutional is that health care spending makes up such a large portion of our economy-- I've seen this number 20 percent thrown around -- that it falls into the Interstate Commerce Provision in the Constitution. So tell us about that 20 percent number.

Warner: Sure, sure. The 20 percent number -- and that's projected to what it's going to grow to by 2020 if spending remains unchecked. Look, in 1960, spending was 5 percent of the economy; and if you can think about your wages, that's just a small percentage of your wages going to health care. That was equivalent with other developed nations.

This number just grows and grows; and where other countries enact health reform that controls costs, our health care reform efforts -- from Nixon, from Clinton -- failed, and our costs just keep going up.

Hobson: Marketplace Gregory Warner in Washington for the big health care battle at the Supreme Court. Thanks, Gregory.

Warner: Thanks so much Jeremy.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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