A federal appeals court in Ohio upheld the 2010 health reform law on Wednesday.
The three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Cincinnati voted 2-1 that the requirement for individuals to buy health insurance does not exceed powers given to Congress.
"As long as Congress does not exceed the established limits of its Commerce
Power, there is no constitutional impediment to enacting legislation that could be
characterized as regulating inactivity," the ruling reads.
"Congress had a rational basis for concluding that the minimum coverage provision is essential to the Affordable Care Act's larger reforms to the national markets in health care delivery and health insurance," Judge Boyce Martin wrote.
The Justice Department quickly welcomed the ruling. “We will continue to vigorously defend the health care reform statute in any litigation challenging it," Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement.
"Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed. We believe these challenges to health reform will also fail,” the statement read.
Judge James Graham dissented on the central Commerce Clause issue. "If the exercise of power is allowed and the mandate upheld, it is difficult to see what the limits on Congress's Commerce Clause authority would be," he wrote. "What aspect of human activity would escape federal power?"
The court’s ruling came quickly – the three-judge panel heard arguments just three weeks ago.
Most experts had predicted the court would uphold the law. Ron Pollack, executive direcotr of Families USA, a group that lobbied for and supports the law, called it a "huge victory".
“The Court—made up of judges appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents—recognized that health care makes up a substantial portion of the national economy and that Congress has the power to regulate that market. We expect that other appellate courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court, will reach the same decision," Pollack said in a statement.
The Ohio case was one of three major challenges to the health care law, and they are widely expected to go to the Supreme Court for final settlement.
On June 8, a separate appeals panel in Atlanta heard a 26-state challenge to the law.
A Virginia court heard arguments on a third challenge to the law in May. In all, there are more than 20 lawsuits against the health care law, which seeks to extend health care coverage to millions of Americans who lack it, reorganize the health insurance market, lower costs, and improve health care delivery.
This article appears in the June 29, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.