Appeals court rules individual mandate unconstitutional

The 11th Circuit decision conflicts with another federal appeals court ruling issued in June.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Aug. 12, 2011

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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance as part of the health system reform law.

In a 2-1 decision issued Aug. 12, the federal appeals court said the law's individual mandate cannot be sustained "as a valid exercise of Congress' power to regulate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce." The mandate requires individuals to obtain health coverage starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.

"This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives," the appellate panel said (link).

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Florida and more than 24 other states challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

A lower court had ruled that the mandate was unconstitutional and said the requirement was not severable from the rest of the law, thus finding the entire law invalid. The appeals court ruled that the mandate was unconstitutional but concluded that the rest of the law was valid.

More than a dozen other legal challenges have been filed against the law, most of which have been dismissed by lower courts.

The 11th Circuit ruling conflicts with a June 29 appeals court decision in Cincinnati. In that case, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said lawmakers have the legislative power to require individuals to obtain health insurance.

Legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will make the final decision on the matter.

At this article's deadline, the U.S. Justice Dept. had not said whether it would appeal the Aug. 12 decision.

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