Congress Had Power to Enact Obama Health-Care Law, U.S. Says

A federal judge’s ruling that struck down legislation requiring almost every American to obtain health insurance should be reversed, the Obama administration said in a court filing.

The administration asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta to reverse a Jan. 31 ruling by U.S. District Judge C. Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate, set to take effect in 2014, exceeded Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. Concluding that the legislation couldn’t function without that provision, Vinson declared the entire law invalid.

The U.S. said in its appellate brief, filed April 1, that “the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of Congress’s commerce power.”

The U.S. has said that the mandatory-coverage provision is the linchpin of the law because it will add many younger and healthier people to the pool of the insured population.

Vinson’s ruling came in a case filed March 23, 2010, by then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. It was later joined by 25 other states.

“Nothing in the federal government’s brief changes our view that the health-care insurance mandate exceeds Congress’s power,” Florida’s current Attorney General Pam Bondi said in an e-mailed statement today. “The federal government spends a lot of time touting the supposed benefits of the health-care act, but those are not enough to justify an unconstitutional law.”

No Lifetime Caps

The legislation, signed by President Barack Obama on the same day McCollum filed suit, was intended to provide the first- ever almost universal U.S. health insurance plan. It included provisions preventing carriers from rejecting applicants who are already ill and from imposing lifetime caps on benefits.

The U.S. has won rulings upholding the law in cases filed in federal courts in Detroit and Lynchburg, Virginia.

Legal challenges to the measure were also filed in separate suits by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli and Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt.

Cuccinelli in December won a federal judge’s ruling that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, while leaving the rest of the legislation intact.

The Obama administration is appealing that decision too.

Vinson’s decision prompted some plaintiff states to declare that the health-care reform act was no longer in force.

Alaska Won’t Implement

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, citing Vinson’s ruling, said Feb. 17 that his state wouldn’t seek federal grant money to implement the legislation.

“The Florida court’s declaratory judgment that the federal health-care law is unconstitutional is the law of the land as it applies to Alaska,” Parnell said in a statement.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Feb. 1 that the ruling in the Florida case relieved his state of any obligation or duty under the federal health-care law. He said that the act was “dead.”

Bill Cosh, a spokesman for Van Hollen, said today he had “no new comment” on the Obama administration’s appellate briefing.

Vinson, on March 3, issued an order staying enforcement of his ruling pending its resolution on appeal.

“Almost everyone agrees that the constitutionality of the act is an issue that will ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Vinson wrote.

Oral arguments in the appeal of Vinson’s ruling are scheduled for June 8. The appeals court denied the states’ request for a full-panel review of Vinson’s decision. A randomly selected three-judge panel will hear the arguments.

The case is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11-11021, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (Atlanta).

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net; Don Jeffrey in New York at djeffrey1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.