Judge Allows Sections of Multistate Health Reform Lawsuit To Advance
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson said he will allow two key parts of a multistate lawsuit against the federal health reform law to proceed, but he cautioned that his decision should not be construed as a final ruling in the case, the New York Times reports.
Vinson also formally rejected the Obama administration's motion to discard the lawsuit (Sack, New York Times, 10/14).
Background on Lawsuit
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, as well as the National Federation of Independent Business -- argues that the law's individual mandate is unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs also contend that states will be overwhelmed by the cost of Medicaid's scheduled expansion in 2014 (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 10/14).
The administration has argued that the only way to improve the health insurance market is to require those who can afford to purchase minimum coverage to do so. The coverage mandate is set to take effect in 2014, and people who fail to obtain minimum coverage by 2016 would face a tax penalty of about $700 annually (California Healthline, 9/15).
Details of Ruling
In his opinion, Vinson objected to Democrats' references to the fines as a penalty and President Obama's denial that it is a tax increase, even though the U.S. Department of Justice has said that it legally is a tax, Politico reports.
Vinson wrote, "Congress should not be permitted to secure and cast politically difficult votes on controversial legislation by deliberately calling something one thing, after which the defenders of that legislation take an 'Alice-in-Wonderland' tack and argue in court that Congress really meant something else entirely, thereby circumventing the safeguard that exists to keep their broad power in check"Â (Haberkorn, Politico, 10/14).
He added, "The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent."
However, Vinson said, "I have not attempted to determine whether the line between constitutional and extraconstitutional government has been crossed," adding, "I am only saying that ... the plaintiffs have at least stated a plausible claim that the line has been crossed" (Brown, Reuters, 10/14).
He rejected four other claims in the lawsuit and ruled that it still could proceed on the basis of the two arguments (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/14).
Vinson has scheduled a summary judgment hearing on Dec. 16, during which the plaintiffs and the Obama administration will present arguments on the merits of their case.
Administration, McCollum React
A spokesperson for DOJ -- which is defending the lawsuit on behalf of the White House, HHS and the Labor and Treasury departments -- said the administration is "disappointed" that Vinson did not dismiss the lawsuit in full, even though he rejected four of the complaints.
"[Vinson] saved for another day the decision on the merits of two claims, and we remain confident that the law ultimately will be upheld," Tracy Schmaler of DOJ said, adding, "This case is in the early stages of litigation and [DOJ] will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation" (CQ HealthBeat, 10/14).
McCollum praised the ruling, adding that it is "the first step to having the individual mandate declared unconstitutional and upholding state sovereignty in our federal system" (Nelson, AP/Chicago Tribune, 10/14).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.