Judge Rules On Attorneys General Lawsuit Challenging Health Care Law; 2 Claims Remain

PENSACOLA, Fla. - (Mealey's) Two of six claims remain in a suit brought by attorneys general challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) after a Florida federal judge issued his ruling Oct. 14 on a motion to dismiss brought by the federal government (State of Florida, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 10-91, N.D. Fla., Pensacola Div.).

U.S. Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida dismissed claims alleging that the individual mandate and penalty violate substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that the act coerces and commandeers with respect to the health benefit exchanges in violation of the Constitution and that the employer mandate interferes with the states' sovereignty as large employers in the performance of government functions.

An alternative count alleging that if the penalty imposed for failing to comply with the individual mandate should be found to be a tax, it is an unconstitutional and unapportioned capitation or direct tax in violation of the Article 1 and Amendments Nine and 10 of the U.S. Constitution was dismissed as moot.

Claims alleging that the individual mandate and concomitant penalty exceed Congress' authority under the commerce clause and violate the Ninth and 10th Amendments to the Constitution and that the act coerces and commandeers the states with respect to Medicaid by altering and expanding the program in violation of Article 1 and the Ninth and 10th Amendments to the Constitution survive.

After the signing of the PPACA into law on March 23, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, attorneys generals from multiple states and the National Federation of Independent Business sued the federal government, challenging the act.

One of the main requirements of the act is that most Americans without insurance obtain coverage or face a penalty.  The penalties would be $95 starting in 2014 and increase thereafter.  Other provisions will stop insurance companies from dropping or denying care to people with pre-existing conditions and expand the federal-state Medicaid insurance program for the poor to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and to cover childless adults for the first time, starting in 2014.

In issuing the opinion, Judge Vinson said it did not matter whether the PPACA was wise or unwise or whether it would positively or negatively affect health care and the economy because his job was not to decide whether the law was good, but only whether the act was constitutional.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the Oct. 20 issue of Mealey's Managed Care Liability Report.  In the meantime, the opinion is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.  Document #31-101020-019Z.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]

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For more information, e-mail editor Cheryl Keely at cheryl.keely@lexisnexis.com.