Health Care

Health Reform’s Critics, Supporters Ready for Court Battle

For the second time this week, a federal judge threatens to steal momentum from the White House.

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Matthew Dobias
Dec. 15, 2010, 2 p.m.

Op­pon­ents of Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law head to a U.S. Dis­trict Court in Pensa­cola, Fla., on Thursday morn­ing to press their case that the in­di­vidu­al man­date is un­con­sti­tu­tion­al and that an ex­pan­sion of Medi­caid en­croaches on in­di­vidu­al states’ rights.

Or­al ar­gu­ments are ex­pec­ted to be­gin early on Thursday and last un­til about noon. At­tor­neys rep­res­ent­ing the 20 states who brought the suit, as well as the Na­tion­al Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pend­ent Busi­nesses, are ex­pec­ted to push the idea that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can­not force a per­son to buy in­sur­ance.

Sup­port­ers of Obama’s health care pack­age have called the in­di­vidu­al man­date cru­cial to the law’s suc­cess and warn that any at­tempt to strip it would severely hand­cuff the law’s abil­ity to ex­pand health in­sur­ance cov­er­age to mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.

“If we want to pre­vent in­surers from deny­ing cov­er­age to people with preex­ist­ing con­di­tions, it’s es­sen­tial that every­one have cov­er­age,” Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us and At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er wrote in a Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed this week. “Without an in­di­vidu­al re­spons­ib­il­ity pro­vi­sion, con­trolling costs and end­ing dis­crim­in­a­tion against people with preex­ist­ing con­di­tions doesn’t work.”

In Oc­to­ber, U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Ro­ger Vin­son ruled that the Flor­ida case could move for­ward, deal­ing a blow to the White House, which only one month earli­er had cel­eb­rated the start of a num­ber of key in­sur­ance re­forms in­cluded in the law.

On Monday, a fed­er­al judge in Vir­gin­ia ruled that the gov­ern­ment could not re­quire a per­son to buy health in­sur­ance.

So far, op­pon­ents of the re­form law have filed more than 20 dif­fer­ent law­suits against it. Twelve have been dis­missed and in two of them, judges ex­pli­citly ruled that the law is con­sti­tu­tion­al. The wide vari­ety of leg­al de­cisions al­most en­sures that the Su­preme Court will make the ul­ti­mate de­term­in­a­tion on Obama’s sig­na­ture do­mest­ic achieve­ment.

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