Judge tells feds to get moving on health care challenge

John O'Brien Jun. 1, 2010, 12:13pm

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge in Florida is not granting the federal government an extension of time to respond to a challenge to health care reform made by 20 states.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson said there is no need for a delay, considering the federal government has already responded to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's challenge in a Virginia federal court. Seven states joined in an amended complaint filed May 14.

The federal government has 33 days after that date to file a motion to dismiss the complaint, which it has done in Virginia.

"(T)he defendants have known of the plaintiffs' basic claims since the original complaint was filed on March 23, 2010," Vinson wrote Friday.

"Although the amended complaint adds new parties and raises new claims, all the defendants are federal agencies or employees thereof. Consequently, they have at their disposal the very substantial resources of the federal government, including numerous attorneys and staff within and outside the United States Department of Justice."

Vinson mentioned the 52-page motion to dismiss in Virginia. Cuccinelli is defending a state law that says no Virginian should have to pay a fee if he or she does not purchase health insurance.

The health care reform package requires individuals who do not purchase health insurance to pay a $695 penalty every year.

"Although the Virginia case was brought under a state statute that is not applicable here, the fundamental arguments being raised there in the motion to dismiss would appear to apply here (specifically, whether the state has standing to sue on behalf of its citizens, whether the new health care law is justified under the Commerce Clause, and issues of ripeness, jurisdiction and justiciability)," Vinson wrote.

"The fact that the defendants have already researched and prepared a substantial motion addressing the legal issues that are relevant to this case further strengthens the conclusion that they should not need additional time to respond to the plaintiffs' amended complaint."

The federal government submitted its motion to dismiss Virginia's lawsuit last week.

"The 'minimum coverage provision' that Virginia challenges here... is a linchpin of Congress's reform plan," it says.

"Based on extensive hearings and expert evidence, Congress concluded that requiring the financially able to purchase health insurance would spread risks across a larger pool, which (as with all insurance) would allow insurers to charge less for coverage...

"Congress determined that, without the minimum coverage provision, the reforms in
the Act, such as the ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, would not work, as they would amplify existing incentives for individuals to 'wait to purchase health insurance until they needed care,' which in turn would shift even greater costs onto third parties."

Businesses with more than 50 workers would have to provide coverage or pay a $2,000-a-worker penalty if any of their employees get government-subsidized plans on their own.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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