Arguments To Start for Multistate Suit Against Health Reform Law
On Thursday, lawyers for the federal government and 20 states are scheduled to present oral arguments in the multistate lawsuit challenging the federal health reform law, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 12/15).
The lawsuit -- which Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) filed in March with the support of 19 other mostly Republican state attorneys general and governors, and the National Federation of Independent Business -- questions the constitutionality of the overhaul's individual mandate and the legality of a provision to expand the Medicaid program.
The states contend that they will be overwhelmed by the costs for the expansion, which is scheduled to begin in 2014 (California Healthline, 12/15).
In his preliminary opinion in October, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson -- who is presiding over the lawsuit -- denied the federal government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit and allowed plaintiffs to proceed with their complaints against the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion (California Healthline, 10/15).
Vinson Likely To Favor Plaintiffs
According to CQ HealthBeat, Vinson "expressed a clear distaste" for the mandate in his preliminary opinion, stating, "It is not based on an activity that they make the choice to undertake," adding, "Rather, it is based solely on citizenship and on being alive" (CQ HealthBeat, 12/15).
On the Medicaid expansion, Vinson said the law puts states in an "extremely difficult situation," adding, "They either accept the sweeping changes to Medicaid ... or they withdraw from the system entirely."
He also wrote, "The plaintiffs have argued that this is tantamount to no choice at all, which can perhaps be inferred from the fact that Congress does not really anticipate that the states will (or could) drop out of the Medicaid program" (McCarthy, National Journal Daily, 12/15).
Supporters of the lawsuit are hoping that Vinson, a GOP appointee, will take a stronger stance on the law than District Court Judge Henry Hudson and rule that the entire law is unconstitutional (Haberkorn, Politico, 12/16).
On Monday, Hudson agreed with plaintiffs in a Virginia lawsuit that the individual mandate exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce.
However, Hudson's ruling -- which marked the first time that a judge has struck down a central provision in the law -- did not invalidate the law or block the overhaul's implementation (California Healthline, 12/14).
Decisions Fall Along Party Lines
Legal experts have been surprised by the recent outcomes in federal district courts of the lawsuits against the health reform law, which mostly have fallen along ideological lines, a rarity in the lower courts, the New York Times reports. However, when lower courts do take partisan sides on an issue, typically it is because the issue is highly charged or polarizing, such as health care, according to the Times.
For example, in the Virginia state lawsuit, Hudson was appointed by President George W. Bush. Vinson was appointed by President Reagan. Meanwhile, the U.S. district court judges who dismissed complaints from an independent lawsuit in Michigan and a separate challenge in Lynchburg, Va., were appointed by President Clinton (Sack, New York Times, 12/15).
Obama Administration Develops 'Plan B' in Mandate Dispute
The Obama administration has "a readily available Plan B" should the Supreme Court ultimately strike down the individual mandate, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The plan is based on the design of the Medicare program, which penalizes elderly U.S. residents who delay their enrollment in the program after they become eligible. The penalty grows incrementally if individuals continue to wait.
According to the AP/Chronicle, the administration's alternative plan would incorporate the same kind of penalty, which would act as a "stiff nudge" to encourage healthy people to enroll in an insurance pool and help control premium costs (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.