Federal judge rules health reform law unconstitutional

The Obama administration plans to appeal, and the judge says implementation will continue until all appeals are exhausted.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Jan. 31, 2011

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A federal judge has ruled that the health system reform law is unconstitutional.

In a 78-page opinion issued Jan. 31, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla., said Congress surpassed its authority by requiring all Americans to purchase insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the act with the individual mandate," the judge said. "That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. ... The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here."

Vinson said the mandate is not severable from the law, and therefore the entire law should be declared null. But he declined to enjoin the law, meaning implementation will continue until higher courts have ruled.

The Obama administration plans to appeal Vinson's ruling.

"We strongly disagree with the court's ruling today and continue to believe, as other federal courts have found, that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional," the Dept. of Justice said in a statement.

Vinson's decision stems from a multistate lawsuit filed in March 2010 on behalf of 13 states. Thirteen more states later joined the suit.

The judge's decision is the second ruling against the health reform law. A Virginia federal judge in December 2010 ruled that only the individual mandate portion of the law was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, two judges have upheld the law's insurance mandate as constitutional.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the reform law since it was enacted in 2010. Judges have granted the government's motion to dismiss 12 of the cases. Legal experts say the matter ultimately may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After Vinson's ruling, the American Medical Association said it would continue to work toward implementing the reform law to ensure "the best outcomes for patients and physicians."

"This means improving provisions of the law enacted last year and passing additional legislation on issues that have yet to be addressed," AMA President Cecil B. Wilson, MD, said in a statement. "Questions of constitutionality are for the court system, including the Supreme Court, to decide."

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