National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court's ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is a landmark decision — both for constitutional law and for health care law and policy. Others will study its implications for constitutional limits on a range of federal powers beyond health care. This article considers to what extent the decision is also about health care law, properly conceived. Under one view, health care law is the subdiscipline that inquires how courts and government actors take account of the special features of medicine that make legal or policy issues especially problematic — rather than regarding health care delivery and finance more generically, like most any other economic or social enterprise. Viewed this way, the opinions from the Court's conservative justices are mainly about general constitutional law principles. In contrast, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion for the four more liberal justices is just as much about health care law as it is about constitutional law. Her opinion gives detailed attention to the unique features of health care finance and delivery in order to inform her analysis of constitutional precedents and principles. Thus, the Court's multiple opinions give a vivid depiction of the compelling contrasts between communal versus individualistic conceptions of caring for those in need, and between health care and health insurance as ordinary commodities versus ones that merit special economic, social, and legal status.
Mark A. Hall; Health Care Law versus Constitutional Law. J Health Polit Policy Law 1 April 2013; 38 (2): 267–272. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03616878-1966252
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