Judge Rejects Virginia School’s Lawsuit on Health Reform’s Legality
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon dismissed a lawsuit filed by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and five Virginia residents challenging the constitutionality of the federal health reform law, the Washington Post reports (Helderman, Washington Post, 11/30).
The lawsuit is among more than a dozen pending court challenges against the overhaul (Haberkorn, Politico, 11/30).
Details of Lawsuit
The lawsuit argued that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring the university and other similar entities and businesses that employ more than 50 individuals to provide health insurance coverage (Washington Post, 11/30). The university argued that it potentially could face as much as $1.1 million in fines if the requirement is upheld (Politico, 11/30).
The lawsuit also challenged the law's individual mandate, which requires most U.S. residents to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a financial penalty.
In addition, the plaintiffs claimed that the law violates their religious rights because some of the money collected through new insurance regulations would be used to cover abortions, which the Christian university opposes (Washington Post, 11/30).
In his 54-page ruling, Moon upheld the constitutionality of the law, noting that it falls within the limits of Congress to regulate interstate trade.
Moon also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the commerce clause in the Constitution does not authorize Congress to force people to obtain health insurance, as it would amount to regulation of inactivity.
According to the New York Times, Moon agreed with the argument made by the Department of Justice, stating, "Far from 'inactivity,' by choosing to forgo insurance, plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, rather than now, through the purchase of insurance" (Sack, New York Times, 11/30).
He added, "Regardless of whether one relies on an insurance policy, one's savings, or the backstop of free or reduced-cost emergency room services, one has made a choice regarding the method of payment for the health care services one expects to receive" (Washington Post, 11/30).
Moon also rejected the suggestion that the law would help to pay for abortion, noting that the university failed to provide evidence of how any of the required payments, fees or fines established in the law might be used for the purpose (Washington Post, 11/30).
In March, prior to the overhaul's passage, President Obama signed an executive order clarifying that no federal funds would be allocated under health reform legislation to pay for abortions (Politico, 11/30).
Liberty University officials said they intend to appeal the ruling (Washington Post, 11/30).
Obama Administration Reacts
The Obama administration hailed Moon's ruling as an indication of the outcomes of other court challenges against the law (Politico, 11/30).
Tracy Schmaler, a spokesperson for DOJ, said, "We are confident that [the law] is constitutional and that we will prevail" (Washington Post, 11/30).
Moon's ruling is the second such ruling in two months (New York Times, 11/2).
In October, a federal judge in Michigan rejected a motion by the Thomas More Law Center to institute a preliminary injunction against the health reform law, arguing that the law's individual health insurance mandate is unconstitutional (California Healthline, 10/8).
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month dismissed an independent appeal by a California-based conservative legal group to review the constitutionality of the federal health reform law -- particularly the individual mandate -- because it has not been fully litigated in lower courts (California Healthline, 11/9).
Federal judges overseeing two other prominent challenges -- a multistate lawsuit in Florida and a separate lawsuit in Virginia -- are expected to issue their decisions in the next couple of months (New York Times, 11/30).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.