WASHINGTON -- Calling it "a victory for people all over this country," U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed a ruling by the country's top court to uphold the central pillar of his health-care law.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rejected arguments that the "individual mandate" of the president's health-care plan was unconstitutional in requiring that most Americans have health-care coverage by 2014 or pay a penalty.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dubbed "Obamacare," has been debated across the United States since it was signed into law in 2010 and has been opposed by nearly all Republicans, including Mitt Romney, Obama's challenger in November's presidential election.
From the White House, Obama said the focus should now be on implementing his plan.
"We will continue to implement this law and we'll work together to improve on it where we can," Obama said. "But what we won't do -- what the country can't afford to do -- is refight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were."
Romney, meanwhile, said he would not give up the fight to undo the law's provisions.
"As you might imagine, I disagree with the Supreme Court's decision and I agree with the dissent," Romney said. "What the court did not do on its last day in session I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States, and that is I will act to repeal Obamacare."
Republican House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters that he has scheduled a vote to repeal the health-care law on July 11. Obama's fellow Democrats in the Senate are expected to block the move.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who is considered conservative-leaning, joined the court's four liberal-leaning justices in ruling that the key provision of Obama's health-care legislation does not unfairly meddle in the lives of individuals and in the business of the states.
In the court's majority opinion, Roberts wrote that the law's requirement that certain citizens be penalized for not obtaining health insurance "may reasonably be characterized as a tax."
"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.
Democrats, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, were quick to hail the decision.
"No longer will Americans live in fear of losing their health insurance because they lose their job," he said. "No longer will tens of millions of Americans rely on emergency-room care or go without care entirely because they have no insurance at all. Soon, virtually every man, woman, and child in America will have access to health insurance they can afford and the vital care they need."
Republicans, in turn, were quick to decry the ruling.
"Republicans won't let up whatsoever in our determination to repeal this terrible law and replace it with the kind of reforms that will truly address the problems it was meant to solve," said U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
In a statement, Republican John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said, "Today’s ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety. What Americans want is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to health-care reform."
In one of the key domestic achievements of his presidency, Obama won congressional approval and signed his health-care plan into law in 2010 to insure some 32 million Americans who do not currently have health insurance.
It also aims to curb spiraling health-care costs and prevents insurance companies from refusing coverage on the basis of patients' medical histories.
The United States is the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health-care coverage to all its citizens.
Jennifer Haberkorn, a healthcare reporter for U.S. political journalism organization POLITICO, noted that Obama had succeeded where his predecessors had previously fought in vain.
"Democratic presidents for about 50 years have tried to put together some kind of significant healthcare reform like this, so that fact that A, President Obama was able to pass it and B, that it stood up to a constitutional challenge, is a significant accomplishment," she said.
Twenty-six of the 50 U.S. states previously challenged Obama's health-care law in court before the case made its way to the nation's top court.
In another part of the court's decision, the justices struck down a provision of the law that requires states to dramatically expand the Medicaid health-insurance program for the poor.
With additional reporting by AP and Reuters