par Astrid Fiano
, DOTmed News Writer | October 08, 2010
On Thursday, federal Judge George Caram Steeh ruled partly in favor of the Obama administration in the Thomas More Law Center's suit challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Center had asked for a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the ACA's provision regarding the individual mandate, which would require citizens to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. Judge Steeh denied that request in his decision.
In addition to denying the injunction, Steeh also dismissed two of the plaintiffs' claims, that the minimum coverage provision of the ACA is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, and the plaintiffs' challenge to the tax penalty provision of the individual mandate.
Although the plaintiffs had argued the penalty went beyond the constitutional limits on taxes, Steeh said that those limits relate to taxation generally for the purposes of raising revenue. The ACA's provision did not fit that description. He explained that the minimum coverage provision has the goal of increasing the number of the insured and decreasing the cost of health insurance by requiring individuals to maintain minimum essential coverage. The judge ruled that the penalty imposed if an individual fails to do so is "incidental" to the purposes of the ACA, and therefore, the plaintiffs' claim that the penalty was an unconstitutional, improperly apportioned direct tax was without merit.
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Steeh also stated that the mandate provision was appropriate in the context of the Commerce Clause, as the plaintiffs' choice to forgo insurance is an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, which would collectively shift money and costs onto other market participants. "How participants in the health care services market pay for such services has a documented impact on interstate commerce," Steeh said. "Obviously, this market reality forms the rational basis for congressional action designed to reduce the number of uninsureds."
Steeh did agree that the plaintiffs "have a right to a court determination of the constitutional authority of Congress to enact the statute in the first place." The plaintiffs still have four other claims under the First, Fifth and 10th Amendments to be litigated.
The original lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan in March, challenged the constitutionality of the ACA saying the law "imposes unprecedented governmental mandates that restrict the personal and economic freedoms of American citizens in violation of the Constitution." The plaintiffs in the case are the center and four citizens who said they do not have health insurance and object to being compelled to purchase insurance under the ACA.