Va. AG wins first round of health care challenge

John O'Brien Dec. 13, 2010, 12:19pm


RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge on Monday sided with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in his lawsuit challenging federal health care reform.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson granted Cuccinelli's motion for summary judgment, which argued that requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty flies in the face of Virginia law.

Both Hudson and Cuccinelli conceded that the ruling is just a preliminary step in the resolution of the case.

"I am gratified we prevailed. This won't be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution," Cuccinelli said.

Hudson added, "(T)he final word will undoubtedly reside with a higher court."

Still, Hudson ruled that including the mandate, which imposes a $695 annual penalty for individuals who do not purchase health insurance, exceeded Congress' power.

"A thorough survey of pertinent constitutional case law has yielded no reported decisions from any federal appellate courts extending the Commerce Clause or General Welfare Clause to encompass regulation of a person's decision not to purchae a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce or role in a global regulatory scheme," Hudson wrote.

"The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invide unbridled exercise of federal police powers.

"At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance -- or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage -- it's about an individual's right to choose to participate."

The mandate does not take effect until 2014. It is the subject of another lawsuit filed by 20 states that is currently pending in Florida.

If the mandate is found unconstitutional, it must be determined if it can be severed from the entire law or if the law will be invalidated. Hudson chose to sever the mandate and any directly dependent provisions.

The bill passed in March, and lawsuits came immediately.

The federal government argues that Congress determined the mandate is essential to the law's success.

"That judgment rested on a number of Congressional findings," the Department of Health and Human Services wrote.

"Congress found that, by 'significantly reducing the number of the uninsured, the requirement, together with the other provisions of this Act, will lower health insurance premiums.'

"Conversely, and importantly, Congress also found that, without the minimum coverage provision, the reforms in the Act, such as the ban on denying coverage or charging more based on pre-existing conditions, would amplify existing incentives for individuals to 'wait to purchase health insurance until they needed care,' thereby further shifting costs onto third parties."

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