June 20, 2012 in Health

Supreme Court may reveal health-care verdict Thursday

Timothy M. Phelps Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)
Steven Senne photo

FILE - In this March 21, 2006, file photo, Christine Ferguson, left, talks to reporters as then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney watches at the Statehouse in Boston. It sounds like a silver lining. Even if the Supreme Court overturns President Barack Obama’s health care law, employers can keep offering popular coverage for the young adult children of their workers. But here’s the catch: The parents’ taxes would go up. That’s only one of the messy potential ripple effects when the Supreme Court delivers its verdict on the Affordable Care Act in June 2012. The law affects most major components of the U.S. health care system in its effort to extend coverage to millions of uninsured people. The nation is so divided that states led by Republicans are largely unprepared to carry out critical requirements such as creating insurance markets. “At the end of the day, I don’t think any of the major players in the health insurance industry or the provider community really wants to see the whole thing overturned,” said Ferguson, a health policy expert who was commissioner of public health in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON — Television cameras will surround the Supreme Court on Thursday morning, as they did Monday, anticipating something that may, again, not happen.

The momentous health-care decision could be announced Thursday. Or not. All we really know is that it is extremely likely to be handed down by the following Thursday, June 28, when the court is expected to end its current term.

The court works in secrecy as it prepares its opinions, and outsiders might be surprised to learn that some of its work is done at the last minute. The justices would have voted almost immediately after three days of oral arguments last March on whether President Obama’s health-care overhaul is constitutional. Although that vote would normally have determined the outcome of the case, there is a lot of back and forth before the majority opinion and the dissents, if any, are finished.

Last Friday was the deadline for justices to hand in dissents. Then whoever is writing the majority opinion — the betting is on Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. — has the option of responding to any criticism of the ruling in his own opinion.

The decisions are printed inside the ornate 1935 Corinthian-style building, and handed out to reporters as the justice who authored the opinion announces the decision from the bench soon after 10 a.m. By tradition the senior justice goes last, so health care is likely to be the last decision announced on the day it comes down.

Only a few times in modern history have the results leaked ahead of time, once reputedly from a comment by a justice to a reporter, another time from a talkative printer.

The court is not meeting Friday, so if the health-care decision does not come Thursday, the next opportunity would be Monday.

Next week the tension will intensify. If the health-care decision is not announced before the 28th, that day is likely to be wild: It would be the first time reporters and the public would go to court knowing they would witness what could be one of the most significant constitutional rulings of the century.

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