government

20-state health reform lawsuit likely to go forward

A federal judge in Florida expects to rule on the legal challenge to the individual insurance mandate as soon as Oct. 14.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Sept. 29, 2010

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A federal judge says he is likely to rule that a 20-state lawsuit against the national health reform has legal grounds to go to trial.

Attorneys for the federal government asked U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a coalition of 20 states. They argued that the lawsuit is premature because states cannot prove they will be harmed by the health reform law's requirement for individuals to have health insurance, which takes effect in 2014. The states' complaint asks the court to block the individual insurance requirement because they argue that Congress does not have the constitutional authority to penalize citizens for not having health insurance.

After hearing arguments from both sides on Sept. 14, Vinson said he would rule on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit as soon as Oct. 14, said Ryan Wiggins, spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, one of the attorneys arguing the states' case. She said McCollum does not expect the case to end in the lower courts.

"We've always believed that this will go to the [U.S.] Supreme Court and that we will win there," she said. It could take two or three years before the lawsuit reaches the high court.

In a statement, McCollum said the insurance mandate is an unconstitutional extension of federal power. "If the federal government is allowed to implement the individual mandate requiring citizens to have health insurance or pay a penalty, there is essentially no limit to what government can force citizens to purchase."

However, conventional wisdom is that federal law generally trumps state law.

McCollum said the federal government should not be able to compel states to provide local matching funds for the Medicaid eligibility expansion in the health reform law.

Meanwhile, in a separate lawsuit Virginia filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, a judge is scheduled to hear arguments on Oct. 18 on whether the state's lawsuit challenging the health reform law should be allowed to go forward. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also is contesting the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate.

Cuccinelli and attorneys for the Dept. of Health and Human Services on Sept. 3 filed motions for and against dismissing the lawsuit. Judge Henry E. Hudson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has not indicated when he will rule on the motions.

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