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Florida Court Rules Health Insurance Reform Law Unconstitutional

by Leah Greene, JD, LLM on February 1st, 2011

As we have previously noted, twenty-six states (including Texas) filed suit in Florida to strike down the health care reform law, commonly referred to as Obamacare. In December, a Virginia court ruled that the health insurance reform law was unconstitutional. Late yesterday, Judge Roger Vinson of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled the health insurance reform law was unconstitutional in State of Florida v. Dep’t of Health and Human Serv., Cause No. 3:10-CV-91-RV.

The Court determined the mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance exceeds Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. As in the Virginia lawsuit, the plaintiff States argued that the Commerce Clause applies only to “activity.” By including a penalty for individuals who do not purchase health insurance, Congress was regulating “inactivity.” The Court explained the Commerce Clause did not allow for regulation of inactivity:

It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause. If it has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting — as was done in the Act — that compelling the actual transaction is itself “commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce”, it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted.

(Emphasis in the original.)

The Court also considered whether the unconstitutional portions of the law could be severed from the constitutional provisions, which the Virginia court did not address. The Court noted that Congress considered, and decided against, including a severability provision in the health care reform law, showing it intentionally did not wish to include it, especially given the controversy surrounding the individual mandate provision. As a result, the Court determined the individual mandate provision and the portions of the law which could stand independently were “inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit.”

The Court denied the States’ request for an injunction, as the law does not take effect until 2014.

This case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the Florida court’s determination that the individual mandate provision is not severable, Congress will be required to re-draft this law to enact some kind of health law reform.

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From → Health Law