Obama Administration Issues Legal Response to Suit Against Reform
On Wednesday, the Obama administration offered a preview of its defense against opposition from state officials and private entities to the new health reform law, Politico reports (Kliff, Politico, 5/12).
In a 46-page brief filed in federal district court in Detroit, legal representatives for the Department of Justice argued that the claims in a lawsuit -- filed by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center on March 23 -- challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate are "flatly wrong" (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Washington Times, 5/13).
The center filed the complaint on the same day that President Obama signed the overhaul into law. The complaint, which the center filed on its own behalf and that of four uninsured state residents, includes a preliminary injunction to block the implementation of the new reform law and the individual mandate. It named President Obama, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Treasure Secretary Timothy Geithner as defendants (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 5/12).
TMLC's lawyers wrote in the complaint that the new reform law, particularly the individual mandate, "represents an unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of all Americans, including plaintiffs, by imposing unprecedented governmental mandates that restrict their personal and economic freedoms in violation of the Constitution" (Politico, 5/12).
They also wrote, "There is no enumerated power in the Constitution that permits the federal government to mandate that every American citizen purchase or obtain health care coverage or face a penalty" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/12).
In its brief, DOJ wrote that congressional lawmakers acted well within their powers to approve comprehensive legislation that would help to fix a health care system that "is in crisis, spawning public expense and public tragedy." They noted that the "minimum coverage provision is vital to that comprehensive scheme" (AP/Washington Times, 5/13).
In addition, they noted that the plaintiffs "bring this suit four years before the provision they challenge takes effect, demonstrate no current injury and merely speculate whether the law will harm them once it is in force" (Pelofsky, Reuters, 5/12).
The brief also stated that the "health care industry operates in interstate commerce and there is a long-recognized federal interest in its regulation" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/12). Further, DOJ wrote that people who choose to go without health coverage "substantially affect interstate commerce by shifting costs to health care providers and the public" (Politico, 5/12).
As a result, the lawsuit's claim that the individual mandate oversteps the bounds of Congress' ability to regulate interstate commerce or tax U.S. residents is incorrect, according to the brief (CQ HealthBeat, 5/12).
TMLC is expected to file its reply to DOJ by June 1, according to the AP/Times (AP/Washington Times, 5/13).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.