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Monday, December 13, 2010

Judge Voids Key Part of Health Care Law

Health care reform was Obama's achievement for this year. Just when it didn't look like it will succeed, it did. And out of that brief success, a defeat months later. I just wonder if this has been a good year for the President:
A federal district judge in Virginia ruled on Monday that the keystone provision in the Obama health care law is unconstitutional, becoming the first court in the country to invalidate any part of the sprawling act and ensuring that appellate courts will receive contradictory opinions from below.

Judge Henry E. Hudson, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, declined the plaintiff’s request to freeze implementation of the law pending appeal, meaning that there should be no immediate effect on the ongoing rollout of the law. But the ruling is likely to create confusion among the public and further destabilize political support for legislation that is under fierce attack from Republicans in Congress and in many statehouses.

In a 42-page opinion issued in Richmond, Va., Judge Hudson wrote that the law’s central requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance exceeds the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The insurance mandate is central to the law’s mission of covering more than 30 million uninsured because insurers argue that only by requiring healthy people to have policies can they afford to treat those with expensive chronic conditions.

The judge wrote that his survey of case law “yielded no reported decisions from any federal appellate courts extending the Commerce Clause or General Welfare Clause to encompass regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product, not withstanding its effect on interstate commerce or role in a global regulatory scheme.”

Judge Hudson is the third district court judge to reach a determination on the merits in one of the two dozen lawsuits filed against the health care law. The others — in Detroit and Lynchburg, Va. — have upheld the law. Lawyers on both sides said the appellate process could last another two years before the Supreme Court settles the dispute.
OK since we may believe this may be politically motivated, I'm sure this ruling could be blown off for that very reason:
The opinion by Judge Hudson, who has a long history in Republican politics in northern Virginia, continued a partisan pattern in the health care cases. Thus far, judges appointed by Republican presidents have ruled consistently against the Obama administration while Democratic appointees have found for it.

That has reinforced the notion — fueled by the White House — that the lawsuits are as much a political assault as a constitutional one. The Richmond case was filed by Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican, and all but one of the 20 attorneys general and governors who filed a similar case in Pensacola, Fla., are Republicans. Other lawsuits have been filed by conservative law firms and interest groups.

The two cases previously decided by district courts are already before the midlevel courts of appeal, with the Detroit case in the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati and the Lynchburg case in the Fourth Circuit in Richmond.
Finally the justification for doing this under the commerce clause of the US Constitution:

The case centers on whether Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause to compel citizens to buy a commercial product – namely health insurance – in the name of regulating an interstate economic market. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits argue there effectively would be no limits on federal power, and that the government could force people to buy American cars or, as Judge Hudson remarked at one hearing, “to eat asparagus.”


The Supreme Court’s position on the Commerce Clause has evolved through four signature cases over the last 68 years, with three decided since 1995. Two of the opinions established broad powers to regulate even personal commercial decisions that may influence a broader economic scheme. But other cases have limited regulation to “activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.”
...
Justice Department lawyers have responded that individuals cannot opt out of the medical market, and that the act of not obtaining insurance is an active decision to pay for health care out of pocket. They say that such decisions, taken in the aggregate, shift billions of dollars in uncompensated care costs to governments, hospitals and the privately insured.
So let's go back for a minute what is the administration banking on and what's the plan if any challenges proceed to the SCOTUS:
The officials stressed that the judge’s decision to not enjoin the law would defer any actual impact for years. They noted that the insurance requirement does not even take effect until 2014, when the Supreme Court presumably will have ruled.

The administration has said that if that provision eventually falls, related insurance reforms would necessarily collapse with it, most notably the ban on insurer exclusions of applicants with pre-existing health conditions. But officials said other innovations, including a vast expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the sale of subsidized insurance policies through state-based exchanges, would withstand even a Supreme Court ruling against the insurance mandate.
OK, well this might mean that health care reform needs to go back to the drawing board. That's OK because ultimately we need to come up with a truly beneficial solution. One that might mean that no more ambulances will have to be turned away. In addition to that people will have timely access to a doctor if they need it. And the need to lower costs somehow.




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