The U.S. Supreme Court today announced it would take up the issue of the constitutionality of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the federal health care reform legislation, with oral hearings in March and a potential ruling in June, just ahead of nationwide elections in the fall.

Two constitutional issues loom large: One is the individual mandate that all persons must buy health insurance if it is not provided for them otherwise; the other is the tax penalty PPACA imposes on those who refuse to purchase insurance.

The core issue is whether the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress the power to order people to purchase anything, which in this case is health insurance.

By agreeing also to review the tax penalty provision, however, the Supreme Court justices could choose to skirt the entire issue by saying the tax penalty cannot be challenged until someone has actually paid it and sought a refund. This is essentially what the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did, invoking the Anti-Injunction Act, which requires the tax to be paid before it can be challenged legally.

If the Supreme Court chooses the Fourth Circuit's avoidance route, PPACA would take full effect in January 2014 but no one would have to pay the tax until the next year, so judgment day could be way, way off–or even non-existent.

Employers, keep your workforces cognizant of their rights and obligations under the ACA by procuring and prominently displaying Personnel Concepts' Health Care Reform Employee Information Poster.