Judge Voids Health Reform Law on Basis of Individual Mandate
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the federal health reform law's individual mandate is unconstitutional, agreeing with plaintiffs in the multistate lawsuit against the overhaul that the mandate exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce, the Washington Post reports (Aizenman/Goldstein, Washington Post, 2/1).
Vinson also voided the entire law because he concluded that the mandate is "inextricably bound" to other provisions in the law (Sack, New York Times, 1/31).
Vinson is the second federal judge to strike down the law's individual mandate, but the first to overturn the entire law. However, despite invalidating the overhaul, he refused to grant the 26 plaintiff states' request to suspend further implementation of the law, saying that such an order is unnecessary because of a "long-standing presumption" that the federal government will comply with judicial rulings such as his (Washington Post, 2/1).
The lawsuit was filed in March 2010 by former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) -- with the support of 19 other mostly Republican state attorneys general and governors, and the National Federation of Independent Business -- just hours after President Obama signed the overhaul into law. Last week, Vinson allowed six more states to join the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs argued that the law's insurance mandate is unconstitutional and that the costs of the Medicaid expansion, which is set to begin in 2014, will overwhelm their states.
In his 78-page ruling, the Florida-based judge wrote, "Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void."
According to Politico, the health reform law lacks a severability clause, a common legal phrase that prevents an entire law from being invalidated in court if one portion of the law is deemed illegal (Haberkorn, Politico, 1/31).
Vinson agreed with the plaintiffs' complaint against the individual mandate, using an analogy popular with the tea party to explain that Congress cannot force anyone to obtain coverage, or impose a fine if they fail to do so, according to CQ Today.
He also wrote, "It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the commerce clause," adding, "If [Congress] has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party, ... it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted."
However, Vinson rejected the plaintiffs' complaint against the Medicaid expansion, ruling that it is difficult to determine whether states would be bankrupted by the expansion as the plaintiffs argued. He added that states are not being forced by Congress to participate in the program (Norman, CQ Today, 1/31).
Vinson concluded that the health reform law "simply [has] too many moving parts ... for me to try and dissect out ... the able-to-stand-alone from the unable-to-stand alone" (Washington Post, 2/1). He added that the law, "like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker" (New York Times, 1/31).
Reform Opponents Say Ruling Means States, Federal Government Will Halt Implementation
David Rivkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, welcomed Vinson's ruling and the expectation that the federal government will comply and halt further implementation of the health reform law. Rivkin said he believes that the 26 plaintiff states are under no additional obligation to adhere to the law's requirements, such as establishing the state-based health insurance exchanges in 2014, unless the government obtains a stay of Vinson's order in an appeals court. "All of that is dead with regard to these 26 states," he said (Washington Post, 1/31).
Congressional Republicans also hailed Vinson's ruling as recognition of their continuing criticism of the reform law. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "This ruling confirms what Americans have been saying for months: [t]he health spending bill is a massive overreach and Democrats' exceeded the bounds of congressional authority under the Constitution in passing the law with the individual mandate" (Politico, 1/31).
White House Says Implementation Will Continue as Scheduled, Plans Appeal
However, White House officials dismissed the suggestion that implementation of the law will be halted, saying that the administration's plans will proceed as scheduled.
Stephanie Cutter, an assistant to the president, wrote in a White House blog post that Vinson's ruling is "a plain case of judicial overreaching" and that his decision "puts all of the new benefits, cost savings and patient protections that were included in the law at risk" (New York Times, 1/31).
In a statement, Tracey Schmaler, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson, wrote, "There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal" (CQ Today, 1/31).
Schmaler said DOJ will appeal the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. According to the Politico, the Atlanta-based appellate court is considered one of the most conservative in the country (Politico, 1/31).
Ruling Propels GOP Repeal Efforts
Vinson's ruling "gave renewed life" and "an unmistakable feeling of political momentum" to Republicans' ongoing efforts to repeal and replace the health reform law, Politico reports. According to Politico, soon after Vinson released his opinion, House and Senate GOP members began calling for the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on the House-approved bill (HR 2) to repeal the law.
A senior Senate Republican aide said that McConnell in the coming weeks is expected to resume an effort to conduct a floor vote on the House repeal bill by using all available parliamentary maneuvers. However, Senate Democratic leaders and aides noted that the repeal legislation does not have the necessary votes in the chamber (Budoff Brown/Shiner, Politico, 1/31).
GOP Bill Seeks State Exemptions From Overhaul
Riding that wave of momentum, Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday plan to introduce legislation to allow states to obtain exemptions from the health reform law's Medicaid expansion, the individual health coverage requirement and the employer-sponsored coverage mandate, CQ Today reports. The bill is among a series of overhaul replacement bills that Republicans have promised to develop as part of their repeal-and-replace efforts.
Meanwhile, Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are expected to reintroduce a bill (S 3958), which they initially unveiled last year, to allow states to opt out of the individual mandate three years earlier than they originally would be permitted to under the law. Last week, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced a bill (S 192) in the upper chamber to repeal the health reform law, mirroring the House-approved bill. All 47 Senate Republicans have co-sponsored the measure (Ethridge, CQ Today, 1/31).
For reaction to Vinson's ruling from California's Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley, see today's Capitol Desk post.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.