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Challenge to health care reform may proceed

Portions of the new federal health care reform law may be unconstitutional, a U.S. District Court in Florida has ruled in denying a motion to dismiss.

Twenty states and several individual plaintiffs filed constitutional challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law March 23. The statute includes an individual mandate that imposes a penalty — collected by the IRS — on those who fail to maintain a minimum level of health insurance beginning in 2014.

The plaintiffs argued the individual mandate and penalty exceed Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause.

As a preliminary matter, the court rejected the federal government’s contention that the penalty imposed in connection with the individual mandate was a “tax” authorized under Congress’s taxing power. Instead, the court held that the individual mandate imposed a true penalty that must be justified under the Commerce Clause.

The court went on to decide that the plaintiffs stated a “plausible” claim that the individual mandate exceeded the powers granted Congress under the Commerce Clause.

“The individual mandate applies across the board. People have no choice and there is no way to avoid it. Those who fall under the individual mandate either comply with it, or they are penalized. It is not based on an activity that they make the choice to undertake. Rather, it is based solely on citizenship and on being alive. …

“As the nonpartisan [Congressional Budget Office] concluded 16 years ago (when the individual mandate was considered, but not pursued during the 1994 national healthcare reform efforts): ‘A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States,’” the court wrote.

It further concluded the plaintiffs had stated a viable claim in their assertion that the Act violates the Ninth and 10th Amendments.

The plaintiffs failed to state a viable claim that the Act violated substantive due process, or that provisions pertaining to health benefit exchanges and employer mandates were unconstitutional.


Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 3:10-cv-91-RV/EMT (N. Fla. Oct. 14).