If you’d been thinking that the Supreme Court’s ruling on President Barack Obama’s controversial health care law would settle the argument once and for all, well, think again.

If anything, Thursday’s 5-4 decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act added fuel to the fire that has burned so intensely since the law was passed more than two years ago.

The ruling handed down by Chief Justice John Roberts does remove some of the uncertainty that had paralyzed both business and government in making plans and decisions needed to implement the many complex provisions of the law over the coming months and years.

Those who had assumed that the Supreme Court would overturn the law and delayed dealing with its requirements now must scramble to catch up. Those who moved ahead decisively on the assumption that the health care program would be ratified have been vindicated and are ahead of the game.

Roberts’ finding that the law’s provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance is constitutional because it could be construed as a tax rather than a mandate surprised many. Veteran Supreme Court watchers had expected the conservative chief justice to take a narrower view of the federal government’s authority to impose its will.

Four of the nine members of the court did exactly that, including Anthony Kennedy — the justice who had been expected to provide the decisive vote for or against the law.


“In our view, ” Kennedy said, “the act before us is invalid in its entirety.”

Congressional Democrats passed the law in 2010 despite vehement Republican opposition, and GOP leaders were quick to denounce the decision upholding it.

Republican presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney has made repealing the law a major issue in his campaign, and there is no reason to imagine that he will retreat from that position.

So the debate about health care reform now moves from the courtroom back to the political arena, where it has consistently inspired partisan rancor and legislative gridlock.

As the November general election campaign gathers steam, Romney will argue that voters should send him to the White House to rid the country of an ill-advised health care law that will stifle economic growth and rob Americans of their freedom to make personal decisions about their health.

Obama, meanwhile, will attempt to make the case that voters must re-elect him to preserve desperately needed access to affordable health care that he and his fellow Democrats fought so hard to provide — and that Romney and the GOP are determined to deny them.

It’s a new twist on an old debate. And the Supreme Court did not come close to ending it.

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