Judge Weighs Challenge to Health Reform Law
A federal judge in Florida on Thursday heard arguments in a multistate challenge to the health care reform legislation passed last spring.
The three-hour hearing in the court of U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson came just three days after a ruling in a similar lawsuit filed in Virginia.
In that case, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the federal government could not force residents of Virginia to purchase health insurance, saying that doing so violates the limits of the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
The Florida case is being closely watched because twenty states are party to the lawsuit which focuses, like the Virginia case, mainly on the mandatory insurance requirement. Two individuals and the National Federation of Independent Businesses are plaintiffs in the action.
In an October ruling in the case, Judge Vinson rejected most of the Obama administration’s arguments in support of dismissing the lawsuit, keeping the lawsuit alive.
He did not say when he would issue a ruling, only saying that it would be “as quickly as possible.”
While not indicating how he would rule, Vinson seemed to side with the states’ position regarding the insurance mandate issue, questioning the merits of requiring someone to buy insurance if they had the means to pay medical expenses. He cited the example where he paid the entire bill for the birth of one of his children.
He voiced more doubt, however, over the argument that the law violated states’ sovereignty through its expansion of Medicaid.
While attorneys for the states argued that the federal contribution of funds makes it essentially impossible for states to withdraw from Medicaid, Judge Vinson pointed out recent statements by Texas Governor Rick Perry that the state is looking at withdrawing from Medicaid.
Texas is one of the plaintiffs in the Florida suit.
The ruling in the Virginia suit, while the first to find some portion of the health law unconstitutional, was not the first court action involving the health reforms. Two other federal judges have issued earlier rulings upholding its constitutionality.
Both of the judges favoring the health law were appointed by Democrat presidents, while Hudson and Vinson are Republican appointees.
The conflicting rulings will make the appeals process more challenging as the parties work through the differences in findings by the various courts. Approximately two dozen challenges to the health law have been filed in courts across the country.
While loss of the mandatory insurance requirement would be a blow to the administration, it would not immediately affect more immediate implementation of the reforms, as that provision is not scheduled to take effect until 2014.