20-state lawsuit challenging health reform law allowed to proceed

The constitutionality of Medicaid expansion and an insurance requirement will be argued Dec. 16.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Oct. 14, 2010

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A federal judge in Florida ruled that a 20-state lawsuit against the national health reform law can proceed because of constitutional questions raised about the law's Medicaid expansion and mandate for individuals to have health insurance.

"The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent," wrote U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida in a 65-page decision, released Oct. 14.

The lawsuit was filed by 16 attorneys general, four governors, the National Federation of Independent Business and two private citizens. The Dept. of Health and Human Services is the defendant, with representation by the Dept. of Justice attorneys.

Vinson ruled the lawsuit has merit to proceed on two grounds: The health reform law's expansion of Medicaid eligibility to 133% could represent a commandeering of state government by the federal government, and the individual insurance mandate could exceed Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce under the constitution. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, individuals will required to have health insurance beginning in 2014.

Vinson dismissed four other arguments by the plaintiffs, including that the penalty for not following the individual insurance mandate is an unconstitutional tax and that a requirement for employers to provide insurance is an unfair burden to states as employers.

Both sides will argue their cases in front of the court during a Dec. 16 summary judgment hearing, according to a statement by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

"This ruling confirms the significance of this lawsuit protecting against the federal health care act's intrusions on individual liberty and limited government," he said.

Spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the Dept. of Justice is confident that its arguments will prevail. "This case is in the early stages of litigation, and the department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation," she said.

The 20 states represented are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

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