Florida Judge Finds Individual Mandate In Health Care Act Unconstitutional

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- (Mealey's) A Florida federal judge on Jan. 31 struck down as unconstitutional the individual mandate portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and, finding that the provision is not severable, held that the entire act must be declared void (State of Florida, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 10-91, N.D. Fla.).

U.S. Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida said that he must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded its powers under the commerce clause in passing the PPACA with the individual mandate.

The judge said he must agree with the plaintiffs that the individual mandate regulates inactivity.

"The defendants' argument that people without health insurance are actively engaged in interstate commerce based on the purported 'unique' features of the much broader health care market is neither factually convincing nor legally supportable," Judge Vinson said.

Shortly after President Barack Obama signed the PPACA on March 23, attorneys general in Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho and South Dakota sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Labor.  The States of Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Alaska later joined the suit.  The National Federation of Independent Business and individuals Mary Brown and Kaj Ahlburg also are plaintiffs.

Only two claims remained in the case -- the challenge to the individual mandate and a challenge to the PPACA to the extent that it improperly amended the Medicaid program through "coercion and commandeering."

Judge Vinson granted judgment in favor of the defendants on the Medicare claim, saying that participation in the Medicaid program is voluntary.  

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the Feb. 2 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 #31-110202-037Z.  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.