Court Rules Against Insurance Mandate in Obama Health Care Law

FRIDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) — In a 2-1 decision, a panel of three judges with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday struck down the controversial “individual mandate” rule in the health care reform package.

The case against the mandate was launched in Florida on behalf of 26 states that had sued to block its implementation.

The individual mandate orders that Americans obtain health care coverage or pay a fine. In their decision, the majority agreed that Congress went beyond its constitutional powers in forcing individuals to do so, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“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,” Judges Joel Dubina and Frank Hull said in a jointly written 207-page opinion, the WSJ reported.

The decision is the latest chapter in a legal saga that has unfolded since the Obama Administration-backed Affordable Care Act went into effect.

In June, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the law, and conflicting rulings from lower courts means the final decision may rest with the Supreme Court. That court is on summer hiatus and will resume its sessions in October.

According to the WSJ, other suits on the issue are currently making their way through the lower courts, but because the Florida suit was launched by a consortium of 26 governors and attorneys general, Friday’s decision carries particular weight.

Still, the Florida decision is not as strong a rebuke of the health care reform law as January’s decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson (also of Florida). In his decision, later overturned on appeal, Vinson voided the entire health-care package.

The judges who ruled against the individual mandate on Friday are Judge Joel Dubina (a George W. Bush appointee) and Judge Frank Hull (a Bill Clinton appointee). In his dissent, Judge Stanley Marcus (a Clinton appointee) described the individual mandate as a logical and permitted way to help rein in health care costs that Americans who are uninsured pass on to others. He said the other two judges were ignoring Congress’ power to help regulate commerce.

According to the WSJ, a third appeals court ruling on the health care reform act should begin soon in the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. One of the two challenges brought forth in that case was initiated by Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

In a statement, Mike Russo, a policy analyst at the nonprofit consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG, said that, “unfortunately, consumers and small businesses would face significantly higher insurance premiums if the Supreme Court upholds this ruling. Americans would be left paying more than $1,000 extra a year, because those who choose to go without coverage will continue to use the emergency room as their only health care and shift those costs onto the insured.”

More information

Find out more about health care reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation.