The latest federal court to attack the underpinnings of health care reform, also known as Obamacare, is the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has ruled that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
The ruling was handed down by a three-judge panel, including one judge who was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton. The decision is the result of a lawsuit brought by 26 states. It makes it all the more likely the U.S. Supreme Court will review and rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform law.
However, the panel overturned part of a ruling by federal Judge Roger Vinson, who struck down the entire law as unconstitutional. The rest of the law, including the expansion of Medicare, can stand, according to the 11th. The ruling by Vinson suggested that the rest of the law was not severable from the individual mandate; if the mandate goes down, the rest of the law must go down as well.
The ruling turned around the question of whether Congress could order people to buy something simply because of their residency in the United States. The court opined that should the individual mandate be upheld, there would be no limit to what Congress could make people do. Congress could determine what people should eat, where and how they live, anything whatsoever.
The Obama administration argued that the health care system was “unique” and thus not similar to, say, food or housing. The court was obviously unconvinced by that argument.
The likely schedule for the Supreme Court to take up the matter is fascinating, considering how it might coincide with the political calendar. The court begins its next session on the first Monday in October 2012. It could hear arguments for the constitutionality of health care reform soon after. A ruling might happen the following summer, right during the height of the campaign.
Without the individual mandate, health care reform is very likely not workable, at least in its goal of providing universal health care. By forcing people to buy health insurance, the government had hoped to partly pay for the scheme, broadening the universe of the insured. However, if the mandate is found to be unconstitutional, health care reform would fall apart. If the court does not strike down the entire law, then Congress would have to revisit the matter, likely by repealing the law.
Source: 11th Circuit says mandate unconstitutional, Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico, August 12, 2011
Florida Judge: Obamacare Unconstitutional, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, January 31, 2011