White House wins health reform round in appeals court

An Ohio-based appellate court rules that requiring individuals to obtain coverage is an appropriate legislative power under the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

By David Glendinning — Posted June 29, 2011

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Backers of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act scored a win at the appellate court level June 29, when a three-judge panel ruled that the health system reform law is constitutional.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, said in a 2-1 decision that lawmakers had the legislative power to approve a central aspect of the reform bill -- the requirement that individuals obtain health coverage starting in 2014 or else pay a penalty. In doing so, it upheld a lower court ruling in a health reform lawsuit filed against the Obama administration by the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based conservative Christian legal organization.

"The minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of the Commerce Power because Congress had a rational basis for concluding that, in the aggregate, the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care substantially affects interstate commerce," the judges said in their majority opinion.

Supporters of the health reform law hailed the ruling as a major victory, noting that one of the judges in the majority was appointed by President George W. Bush.

"Every step of the way, the health care debate has been polluted by partisan politics," said Ethan Rome, executive director of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now. "Today's decision, made by judges appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents, is immune to that criticism. The court ruled on the merits, and it's as simple as that."

However, experts on both sides of the debate expect the final decision to come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take up the health reform issue in its next session. The Obama administration has appealed two other cases in which courts invalidated part or all of the reform statute based on the individual insurance mandate being unconstitutional. The reform law was upheld by one additional lower court in a separate lawsuit, and more than a dozen other challenges to the statute have been dismissed without judges ruling on the merits of the arguments. The Supreme Court may consolidate multiple lawsuits if it takes up the issue.

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