Supreme Court sets Obama healthcare arguments

WASHINGTON Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:54pm EST

President Barack Obama speaks to the Families USA's 16th annual Health Action Conference at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill in Washington January 28, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama speaks to the Families USA's 16th annual Health Action Conference at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill in Washington January 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Oral arguments on President Barack Obama's sweeping U.S. healthcare overhaul will last 5-1/2 hours spread over three days from March 26-28, the Supreme Court said on Monday.

The Supreme Court last month agreed to hear the 5-1/2 hours of oral arguments, one of the lengthiest arguments in recent years. There have been similar marathon sessions in a handful of big cases dating back over the past 70 years.

The court said it would hear one hour of arguments on March 26 on whether the legal challenges to the requirement that all Americans buy insurance must wait until after that part of the law has taken effect in 2014.

At issue is a federal law, the Anti-Injunction Act, and whether the requirement that Americans buy insurance or pay a penalty is effectively a tax covered by that law and can only be challenged after the penalty has been imposed.

The court said it would hear two hours of arguments on March 27 on the constitutional issue at the heart of the battle -- whether Congress overstepped its powers by adopting the insurance purchase requirement known as the individual mandate.

The Obama administration is defending the requirement as a constitutional effort by Congress to address a national crisis while 26 states led by Florida and an independent business group challenge it as an unprecedented intrusion of congressional authority under the Constitution.

On March 28, the Supreme Court said it would hear 90 minutes of arguments on whether the rest of the law can survive if the mandate is struck down.

It then will hear one hour of arguments that day on the final issue of whether Congress improperly coerced the states to expand the Medicaid program that provides healthcare to the poor and the disabled.

A ruling is expected by the end of June, in the middle of the 2012 presidential election campaign in which the Democrat Obama will seek re-election against a Republican yet to be nominated.

The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

(Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Howard Goller)

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