Obamacare supporters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Obamacare supporters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. Photo by AFP
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A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul law that requires that most Americans get insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority in the opinion.

"Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," he concluded. The vote was 5-4.

The court's four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the decision. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

In another part of the decision and in a blow to the White House, a different majority on the court struck down the provision of the law that requires the states to dramatically expand the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

Barack Obama responded that the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the health care reform law was a victory for the American people, and he promised to implement it and improve upon it going forward.

"The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law and we'll work together to improve on it where we can," Obama said at the White House.

"What we won't do - what the country can't afford to do - is re-fight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were. With today's announcement, it's time for us to move forward."

Meanwhile, opponent Mitt Romney said that they American people would have to defeat Obama, in order to get rid of Obamacare.

The upholding of the insurance purchase requirement, known as the "individual mandate," was a major election-year victory for Obama, a historic ruling on the law that aimed to extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

The 2010 law constituted the $2.6 trillion U.S. health care system's biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years.

Critics of the law had said it meddles too much in the lives of individuals and in the business of the states.

Twenty-six of the 50 U.S. states and a small business trade group challenged the law in court. The Supreme Court in March heard three days of historic arguments over the law's fate.

The court's ruling on the law could figure prominently in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election in which Obama seeks a second four-year term against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who opposed the law.

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