The Obama administration asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta to reverse a ruling that struck down healthcare reform legislation requiring that almost every American obtain health insurance.
The administration asked the appeals court 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 the legislation couldn’t function without that provision, he declared the entire law invalid.
The U.S. responded in its appellate brief, filed Friday, 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, which was later joined by 25 other states.
The legislation, signed by President Barack Obama on the same day McCollum filed suit, was intended to provide the first-ever near universal U.S. health insurance plan and included provisions preventing carriers from rejecting applicants who are already ill and from imposing lifetime caps.
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 also found the individual mandate was unconstitutional while leaving the rest of the legislation intact.
The Obama administration is appealing that decision, too. The U.S. has won rulings upholding the law in cases filed in federal courts in Detroit and Lynchburg, Virginia.
Vinson’s decision prompted some plaintiff states to declare the heathcare reform act was no longer in force.
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 healthcare 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 healthcare law. He said that day that the act was “dead.”
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.
Bill Cosh, a spokesman for Van Hollen, said he couldn’t immediately comment on the Obama administration’s appellate briefing.
Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Thomas Kelley, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, didn’t immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
Oral arguments in the appeal of Vinson’s ruling are scheduled for June 8. The appeals court has 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).
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