What to expect from the health care hearing

Demonstrators protest the federal health care overhaul, during a 'Stand Up for Religious Freedom' rally at Federal Hall National Memorial in New York on March 23, 2012. A number of protesters are expected on the steps of the Supreme Court during its three-day hearing on the law.

Stacey Vanek Smith: President Obama's health care reform is having its day in court. For the next three days, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of several aspects of the overhaul.

Our own Gregory Warner will be there today. Good morning, Gregory.

Gregory Warner: Good morning.

Vanek Smith: So "Constitutional Woodstock" -- this sounds so interesting to me. Tell me a little bit about what you expect.

Warner: Well, come on, first of all, it's an important case. But also, right outside the Supreme Court building, everybody's going to be gathered -- you've got your Tea Party; you have other protesters in support, of course, of the law. It'll be a scene.

Vanek Smith: So why is such a long debate? Why three days? The Supreme Court hasn't scheduled an argument this long since the '60s, from what I understand.

Warner: That's right. The three days are broken up like this: Day 1 is can the court even hear this case?; Day 2 is the big question -- can Congress tell Americans they have to buy health insurance, this individual mandate?; and then Day 3, if the Supreme Court does strike down this mandate, what else in the law do they have to get rid of?

Vanek Smith: Talk to me about that last question: If the individual mandate goes, what happens to the rest of the health care law?

Warner: There's an economics answer, and then there's a politics answer, and then I guess a geographic answer to this question. So basically, the mandate is the linchpin of the law -- it allows insurance reform because insurance only works if people buy when they don't think they need it. Now, there's lots of policy ways to do that. The problem is politics, because any of these solutions would have to be agreed to by Congress, so there's that. Geographically, if this law gets struck down, nothing's stopping states from doing the same thing, so it depends where you live.

Vanek Smith: So Gregory, tell us what happens if the Supreme Court upholds this law?

Warner: Well that's then -- legally -- the end of the line, but then there's November, the presidential election, of course. That's another mandate on this law politically. And then in 2014, remember the states have to be a partner with the federal government in implementing this law, so states could pretty easily drag their heels or even flout this law. And then again, it depends on the politics, whether the politics of 2014 look like the politics of today.

Vanek Smith: Our own Gregory Warner, who will be at the argument a little bit later today. Gregory, we hope to hear updates from you.

Warner: I'll be joining you.

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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