Oral arguments held in health care challenge

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 14, 2010, 3:59pm


PENSACOLA, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - Twenty states and the National Federation of Independent Business made their arguments on Tuesday as to why their lawsuit challenging health care reform should continue.

Karen Harned, executive director of the federation's Small Business Legal Center, said the law "fundamentally undermines" the liberty interests of all citizens and undercuts the ability of small business owners to own, operate and grow their business.

The federation, which describes itself as the voice for small business owners, and seven other states added their names to a lawsuit challenging the federal health care reform in May. Those seven states include Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Alaska.

Of the seven new states, only three joined through their attorney general's office. Indiana's Greg Zoeller, Alaska's Dan Sullivan and North Dakota's Wayne Stenehjem are those attorneys general. The other four joined through their governor's office.

The original suit was filed in March after President Barack Obama signed the reform legislation into law. The original state plaintiffs are Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington and South Dakota.

The lawsuit claims it is unconstitutional to require an individual to pay a yearly penalty if he or she does not purchase health insurance.

Beginning in 2014, individuals who flout the mandate face an annual penalty of $695, while employers could face penalties of $2,000 per worker for not offering affordable health coverage.

"The court needs to step in and rule that the individual mandate which forces citizens to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional," Harned said in a statement following Tuesday's arguments.

"If this mandate is allowed to stand, the federal government will have entirely too much power over our individual lives. If they can force us to buy health insurance, what will stop them from forcing us to buy cars made by a government-acquired manufacturer or financial instruments from a government-rescued bank. This simply cannot be constitutional."

Harned said the Obama administration's arguments for dismissing the case are based on "political rhetoric" and "flimsy legal arguments."

"They have tried to distract the court from evaluating the important constitutional issue at stake by challenging the parties standing and by conveniently relabeling the controversial individual mandate as a tax -- despite repeated assurances from the president himself during the legislative debate that the mandate is absolutely not a tax," she said.

She added, "We urge the court to see through these tactics and rule to let this case move forward on the merits. In order to preserve our individual liberties, the court must ultimately rule that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power to force individuals to purchase a product."

The lawsuit also claims states will have to broaden their Medicaid eligibility standards to provide for many more enrollees.

"We firmly believe the government has exceeded its constitutional authority and we are prepared to do anything in our power to protect the people from irresponsible and unconstitutional actions by the federal government," Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said in May. McCollum is leading the lawsuit.

Following their oral arguments, the business federation and three of the state attorneys general involved in the lawsuit held a press conference on the steps of the courthouse. The attorneys general included McCollum, Mark Shurtleff of Utah and Troy King of Alabama.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson indicated he will likely allow the lawsuit to go to trial, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

Vinson said he would rule before Oct. 14 on what parts of the lawsuit he will allow to go to trial, indicating that he would likely allow at least one part to continue. He did not elaborate. The court will have oral arguments on Dec. 16.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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