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.