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OPINION: Health care reform law requires fast resolution by court

OPINION: Health care reform law requires fast resolution by court

THE MOST SIGNIFICANT takeaway from last week's oral arguments on the health care reform law before the Supreme Court was a near-consensus among the justices that they should resolve the legal issues by the end of the court's current term in June.

Justices spanning a wide range of the ideological spectrum were openly skeptical of arguments presented by Robert Long, a court-appointed attorney, that an obscure 1867 law prevents the court from taking up the case until a tax has been paid—in this case the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's requirement that most U.S. residents either enroll in a qualified plan or pay a penalty.

The individual mandate doesn't take effect until 2014, with the penalty for those not enrolled in a plan due in 2015. If the justices had accepted Mr. Long's argument that it is too soon to hear the case—which we don't think they did—the result would have been years of uncertainty and potential chaos.

Consider the issue of prescription drug coverage that some employers offer to Medicare-eligible retirees. The health care reform law, effective next year, pares a big tax break Congress extended to employers as part of a 2003 law to encourage them to continue the drug plans.

In response to the dilution of the tax break, many employers are preparing to revamp or even eliminate the retiree drug plans.

What if the Supreme Court were to wait until 2015 to decide the future of the health care reform law and it then strikes down the entire law, which presumably would restore the prescription drug tax break? Employers, at least in some cases, would have changed their plans needlessly.

Of course, there are far bigger issues than that. By 2014, states are supposed to set up exchanges where millions of previously uninsured people will use their health care reform law premium subsidies to buy coverage. If the justices were to strike down the law in 2015, think of all the time and money the states would waste in establishing the exchanges.

Fortunately, if our reading of the justices' comments is right and a court ruling is handed down in June, those scenarios will not develop. And everyone should welcome a quick resolution of the law's future.