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Obama Health-Care Law Challenge Dismissed by Washington Judge

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration’s health-care reform law survived a constitutional challenge in federal court in Washington, marking the third U.S. victory against cases seeking to block the measure.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler yesterday dismissed a lawsuit brought in June by five individuals who claimed the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring people to procure minimum insurance coverage starting in 2014 is unconstitutional.

In a 64-page opinion, Kessler said Congress was acting “within the bounds” of its constitutional Commerce Clause power when it imposed the insurance requirement.

“The individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage,” Kessler wrote. “Thus, the aggregate effect on interstate commerce of the decisions of individuals to forgo insurance is very substantial.”

Kessler, like judges in Michigan and Virginia who concluded the mandate is constitutional, was appointed by President Bill Clinton. The 42nd U.S. president, a Democrat, nominated Kessler for the district court seat in 1994. The other judges who upheld the mandate were George Caram Steeh III in Detroit, who Clinton selected in 1997, and Norman K. Moon in Lynchburg, Virginia, who was nominated the same year.

Two Republican Appointees

The two federal judges who have invalidated all or part of the measure were each appointed by a Republican president. U.S. District Judge C. Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, whose Jan. 31 ruling is the only one thus far striking down the act in its entirety, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Judge Henry E. Hudson in Richmond, Virginia, was selected by President George W. Bush in 2002.

Edward White, a lawyer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who represents the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed with the ruling and that his clients would file an appeal.

The plaintiffs include one resident of New York, one from North Carolina and three Texans, who argued the financial penalties imposed on them and their families for failure to obtain insurance could exceed $27,000. They asked the court to declare the mandate unconstitutional. They also argued that the law violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The U.S moved to dismiss the case in August. Kessler heard argument on that request last month.

‘Good Health’

The plaintiffs told the court they’re all “generally in good health,” Kessler said in her ruling. Two of those suing said they prefer to pay personally for future medical costs, while the others said they will “continue to refuse medical services for the remainder of their lives” for religious reasons, according to the ruling.

The court found “that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable measure for Congress to take in reforming our health care system,” Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Two federal appeals courts -- one in Richmond and one in Cincinnati -- are currently examining the law with arguments scheduled in May.

The federal government, in papers filed with Vinson last week, asked him to clarify whether his decision relieves the 26 states that sued in his court of their rights and obligations under the act while the U.S. pursues an appeal.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the law before an appellate court decision.

The case is Mead v. Holder, 10-cv-00950, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington; or tschoenberg@bloomberg.net; Andrew M. Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net.

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