Although the insurance penalty is "being collected in the same manner of a tax doesn't automatically mean it's a tax," said Justice Stephen Breyer, the Post reported.
Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to agree. The courts should not be deprived of jurisdiction in cases unless the reasoning is very clear, he said, adding, "I find it hard to think this is clear, whatever else it is," the newspaper reported.
Attorneys for both the Obama administration and challengers to the law were united on one issue Monday -- the Supreme Court could hear the case now, The New York Times reported.
Budget office sees savings; opponents skeptical
Here's how the health-reform law is designed to provide health insurance to uninsured Americans:
- Individual mandate. It requires most adults to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. By 2016, the phased-in penalty will reach either $695 or 2.5 percent of yearly taxable income, whichever is greater. People with incomes below tax-filing thresholds will be exempt from the provision. Up to 16 million people are projected to join the rolls of the insured under the mandate.
- Medicaid expansion. This would increase eligibility to all people under age 65 with annual incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- about $14,850 for a single adult and $30,650 for a family of four in 2012. Non-disabled adults under 65 without dependent children were previously ineligible. Another 16 million people are estimated to gain insurance under the expansion.
- State-run insurance exchanges. They will be created to help small businesses and individuals purchase insurance through a more organized and competitive market.
In February 2011, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that savings from the Affordable Care Act would cut the federal deficit by $210 billion during the next decade.
But opponents say that the cost-cutting provisions probably won't work.
Devon Herrick, a health economist at the free-market National Center for Policy Analysis, said the law sets up a "slippery slope" that will increase costs, not lower them.
"If Congress and company have the legal authority to decide the minimum coverage you must have, all manner of lobbyists and special interests and providers for specific diseases will descend on Washington and state capitals, as they always have, to make sure that their respective services are covered by that mandate," Herrick said.
The law's supporters argue that without the requirement that people have insurance coverage while they're healthy, there won't be enough money to pay for the nation's health insurance needs.
"If people don't feel like paying, then get sick and go to the emergency room or the hospital, those people's costs will be added on to our insurance bills as they are today, which makes it much more expensive," Rother said.
Lower courts, different interpretations
The trail of legal challenges leading up to the Supreme Court has involved more than two dozen lawsuits and appeals.
Last June, the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the individual mandate was valid because of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to regulate commerce that takes place among states.
In August, a district judge in Florida ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviewed his decision, rejected that argument and found that the Affordable Care Act could stand even if the individual mandate provision were removed, Landers said.
Then in November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also upheld the individual mandate based on the Commerce Clause.
The U.S. Supreme Court chose to review the Florida case, which now includes 25 other states as plaintiffs, along with the National Federation of Independent Business.
The law has been controversial since it was passed by Congress and signed by Obama in March 2010. Poll after poll has found that Americans don't like the individual mandate. But a recent Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll revealed that people are starting to warm up to certain key provisions of the law -- such as the ban on insurance companies turning away applicants with preexisting health problems.