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PPACA unconstitutional? Not so fast.

WHEN U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE Roger Vinson ruled in January that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, opponents of the legislation cheered the news. Since then, many Americans have written PPACA off as overturned, but the reality it not as simple.


Following Vinson's ruling, the Obama administration filed a request for a seven-day stay of Vinson's judgment so it might seek an expedited appellate review. Vinson granted the stay, and during that time, lawyers at the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit. The legal status of the case is now uncertain as it moves through the appeals process.

Vinson issued the stay in connection with State of Florida et al. vs. United States Department of Health and Human Services et al. in which Vinson held in the ruling that Congress has no authority under the Commerce Clause to enforce the "minimum essential coverage provision" in PPACA.

If the minimum coverage provision takes effect as enacted, it will require many people with incomes above a certain level who do not get health coverage from their employers to buy a minimum level of health coverage or else pay a penalty. The provision, set to take effect in 2014, provides exceptions for individuals with religious objections to owning health coverage and individuals who cannot find affordable health coverage.

Health insurers have argued that they can provide affordable health coverage for all, without basing rates on health status, only if the government requires all people--including relatively young, healthy people --to have health coverage.

Vinson has ruled that, because, in his eyes, the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and because PPACA is not written in such a way that the mandate can be considered separately from the rest of the act, the entire act must be declared void.

"Like every single district court to consider this issue so far--including those that have ruled for the federal government--I rejected the defendants' argument that the penalty should be construed as a tax barred by the Anti-Injunction Act," Vinson says. "Instead, I concluded that it was a civil regulatory penalty which could not be based on the federal government's broad taxing power."

Vinson says he found that giving Congress the authority to regulate non-action could give it the authority to make citizens take many other actions, such as eating broccoli.

Vinson says he did not try to separate the individual insurance ownership mandate from the rest of PPACA because it appeared that Congress had made an active decision to delete a severability clause from the act.

"Almost everyone agrees that the constitutionality of the act is an issue that will ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States," Vinson says. "It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward as soon as practically possible."

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Title Annotation:TOP STORIES
Author:Bell, Allison
Publication:National Underwriter Life & Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 21, 2011
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