HHS Asks Virginia Judge To Dismiss State Lawsuit Challenging Reform Law
On Monday, attorneys representing HHS asked a federal judge in Virginia to dismiss a state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new health reform law, the Washington Post reports (Helderman, Washington Post, 5/25).
The lawsuit -- filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) on March 23, just hours after the new law was enacted -- argues that Congress approved legislation exceeding its powers to regulate interstate commerce. In addition, the complaint contends that the individual mandate, which will require nearly all U.S. residents to obtain health coverage or pay a penalty, oversteps federal powers under the Constitution's 10th Amendment (Lewis, AP/Miami Herald, 5/24).
Cuccinelli said that Virginia is uniquely positioned to challenge the reform law because the state's General Assembly this year passed a law stating that Virginia residents could not be forced to purchase health insurance.
In its 39-page brief for Virginia vs. Sebelius, federal attorneys -- on behalf of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- argued that Virginia's law is an attempt to nullify federal law and does not constitute the legal conflict required to permit the state to sue.
Federal attorneys wrote that individuals, not the state, are affected by the individual mandate, negating the state's ability to sue over the issue. Further, federal attorneys wrote that the overhaul does not cause injury to the state and will not take effect until 2014, which means the state cannot yet sue (Washington Post, 5/25).
The motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., noted that the overhaul is fully compliant with the constitution's commerce clause and that lawmakers "understood that virtually everyone at some point will need medical services, which cost money," so the new law "merely regulates economic decisions on how to pay for those services -- whether to pay in advance through insurance or attempt to do so later out of pocket -- decisions that substantially affect the vast, interstate health care market."
Cuccinelli Defends Action
On Monday, Cuccinelli acknowledged that state laws generally do not override federal law but said he felt it was his "duty" to address the conflict between the new reform law and the new state law (Washington Post, 5/25)
Â Cuccinelli's complaint states that the individual mandate "imposes immediate and continuing burdens on Virginia and its citizens," adding that the "collision between the state and federal schemes" creates controversy over the rights of those governments (Walker, Virginian Pilot, 5/25).
Cuccinelli added, "We contend that if a person decides not to buy health insurance, that person -- by definition -- is not engaging in commerce, and should not be subject to a federal mandate." He wrote that his office is still reviewing the motion and "at initial glance, this is pretty close to what we expected."
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cuccinelli's office has until June 7 to file a response to the federal motion (Nolan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/25).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.