Obama Administration To Appeal Va. Ruling on Individual Mandate
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice said that the Obama administration will appeal Monday's ruling by a federal district court judge that the federal health reform law's individual mandate is unconstitutional, the Wall Street Journal reports (Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 12/15).
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson agreed with plaintiffs in a Virginia lawsuit that the individual mandate exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce.
However, Hudson's ruling -- which marks the first time that a judge has struck down a central provision in the law -- did not invalidate the law or block the overhaul's implementation.
Hudson also rebuffed the administration's argument that federal taxation law permits the government to levy a penalty on individuals who fail to obtain insurance coverage, stating that the penalty "lacks a bona fide intention to raise revenue."
The lawsuit was filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in March just hours after the new reform law was enacted, arguing that the mandate also conflicts with a state law that protects state residents from such federal insurance requirements (California Healthline, 12/14).
Sufficient Time for Appellate Court Review, DOJ Says
On Tuesday, DOJ spokesperson Tracey Schmaler said the department intends to appeal Hudson's ruling in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. (Norman , CQ HealthBeat, 12/14).
The Richmond appeals court already is reviewing a separate Virginia lawsuit in which a U.S. district court judge in November ruled that the health reform law is constitutional (Wall Street Journal, 12/15).
Schmaler noted that at least four other similar lawsuits have been dismissed in district courts nationwide and already are under review at the appellate level. She said the lawsuits mostly are focused on the individual mandate, which is not scheduled to be implemented until 2014. Therefore, "there is more than sufficient time for the courts to consider this [Virginia] case in their normal course of business," Schmaler said.
Schmaler's statements mean that DOJ is rejecting Cuccinelli's invitation to fast-track the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to CQ HealthBeat (Norman , CQ HealthBeat, 12/14).
Earlier this month, Cuccinelli confirmed that state officials have discussed with DOJ the possibility of filing a petition for a writ of certiorari that would send the lawsuit directly to the high court.
On Monday, Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) also launched an effort to gather other state governors to press DOJ to bypass the appeals court review and fast-track the case to the high court (California Healthline, 12/14).
Schmaler said that DOJ "believes this case should follow the ordinary course of allowing the courts of appeals to hear it first so the issues and arguments can be fully developed before the Supreme Court decides whether to consider it" (Vicini, Reuters, 12/14).
Ruling Will Not Impede Implementation, White House Says
On Tuesday, Obama administration officials reiterated that Hudson's ruling will not affect the implementation of the overhaul, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Officials said that discussions with state officials on implementation plans are continuing as scheduled.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "There's no practical impact at all as states move forward in implementing ... the law that Congress passed and the president signed."
To that end, a group of state officials is expected to meet with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the creation of the new state-based health insurance exchanges, which are scheduled to be launched in 2014 along with the insurance mandate.
The group is expected to include representatives from some of the 20 states that have joined a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health reform law (Sherman, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/14).
Ruling Shifts Obama's Role, Makes Others Question Necessity of Individual Mandate
After insisting during the 2008 presidential campaign that an individual mandate was unnecessary to overhaul the nation's health care system, Monday's ruling means President Obama must assume "the position of defender-in-chief of the idea" he once opposed, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein, Washington Post, 12/15).
Meanwhile, the ruling also has prompted some lawmakers and industry executives to look into alternatives to the mandate in case the high court eventually rules it to be unconstitutional, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 12/14).
Multistate Lawsuit Expected To Shift Attention to Medicaid
With oral arguments scheduled for the multistate antireform lawsuit starting on Thursday, the debate over the health reform law could shift from its individual mandate to the overhaul's Medicaid provisions, CQ HealthBeat reports.
Although the multistate lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the plaintiffs in the suit have questioned the legality of the law's provision to expand the Medicaid program.
The Medicaid expansion would increase the nationwide eligibility threshold for the program to 133% of the federal poverty level. The law states that the federal government will pay 100% of the cost of covering all newly eligible people through 2016 and pay 90% through 2020.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the federal government would pay $443.5 billion for the expansion between 2014 and 2019, and states would pay $21.2 billion. As many as 16 million people would become eligible for the newly expanded program by 2019, KFF said.
The suit's plaintiffs, in a legal brief filed by lawyers on Dec. 6, said that by expanding Medicaid, "Congress knew that it was going far beyond the mere persuasion of funding 'carrot' and that instead it was wielding a 'stick' over the states in violation of federalism and dual-sovereignty principles."
They added that the reform law "has radically transformed Medicaid into something that is far different, immeasurably costlier and designed to function as part of a much broader scheme with a new objective."
The plaintiffs also said Congress was "pulling a bait-and-switch" on states because the law allows states to opt out of the expansion, which is practically impossible, CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman , CQ HealthBeat, 12/14).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.