A federal judge in Florida on Thursday ruled that challenges to the healthcare reform law’s individual mandate and its Medicaid expansion can proceed.
The widely expected ruling does not mean that Florida Northern District Senior Judge Roger Vinson agrees that the law is unconstitutional, only that the arguments against it can’t be dismissed out of hand as the Obama administration had requested. Vinson threw out four other counts having to do with taxation and requiring states to enforce the law.
Attorney General Bill McCollum’s lawsuit, filed the same day that President Obama signed health reform into law, is the main legal challenge to the Democrats’ signature domestic achievement. Challengers include 20 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.
The controversial mandate is central for the law to function because without it private insurers say they’d go broke if they had to follow the new law’s requirements on covering sick people.
Other federal judges have already issued divergent rulings, however, making it difficult to know what to expect as the case moves foward.
Last Thursday, a federal district judge in Michigan upheld the mandate’s constitutionality in a separate lawsuit.
The conservative Thomas More Law Center and four individuals had sued the White House over the mandate, arguing that it violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.
But Detroit-based U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh disagreed, finding that the mandate does not constitute “an improperly apportioned direct tax.”
“The minimum coverage provision of the Health Care Reform Act contains two provisions aimed at the same goal,” Steeh wrote. “Congress intended to increase the number of insureds and decrease the cost of health insurance by requiring individuals to maintain minimum essential coverage or face a penalty for failing to do so.”
In August, however, Judge Henry Hudson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied the administration’s request to throw out Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s lawsuit, also filed Sept. 23.
“Unquestionably, this regulation radically changes the landscape of health insurance coverage in America,” Hudson wrote.
A hearing on the Virginia case is scheduled for Monday.
The counts that survived in the Florida case are:
Count One: Unconstitutional mandate that all individuals have healthcare insurance coverage or pay a penalty. (Unconstitutional under Commerce Clause (Art. I Sec. 8) and under the 9th and 10th Amendments concerning principles of federalism and dual sovereignty.)
Count Four: Unconstitutional coercion and commandeering of the states as to Medicaid. (Unconstitutional under Art. I and Amendments 9 and 10.)
Four other counts were thrown out:
Count Two: Unconstitutional mandate that all individuals have healthcare insurance coverage or pay a penalty. (Unconstitutional under the 5th amendment’s due process clause.)
Count Three: Violation of constitutional prohibition of unapportioned capitation or direct tax. (Unconstitutional under Art. I Sections 2 and 9 and Amendments 9 and 10.)
Count Five: Unconstitutional coercion and commandeering as to healthcare insurance. (Unconstitutional under Art. I and Amendments 9 and 10.)
Count Six: Unconstitutional interference with the states’ sovereignty as employers and performance of government functions. (Unconstitutional under Article I and Amendments 9 and 10.)
Vinson has already laid out a timeline on how the lawsuit will move forward.
“Assuming the case survives dismissal in whole or in part,” he wrote last month, “the parties have until 11/4/2010 in which to move for summary judgment (and the (defendants) may file their answer at the same time); the opposing party will have until 11/23/2010 to respond; and the moving party will have until 12/6/2010 to file any Reply.”