Judge refuses to block Virginia challenge to health-care reform
Obama administration lawyers asked a federal judge to dismiss a Virginia lawsuit against federal health-care reform. But the judge cleared the way for an October hearing.
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The ruling is the first decision in what may be years of litigation over the question of whether Congress has the power to regulate – and tax – a citizen’s decision not to buy health insurance.
“Given the presence of some authority arguably supporting the theory underlying each side’s position, this court cannot conclude at this stage that the complaint fails to state a cause of action,” Judge Hudson wrote in a 32-page opinion.
The action came in response to a request by Justice Department lawyers that the Virginia lawsuit be dismissed. The ruling clears the way for an Oct. 18 federal court hearing in Richmond on whether the national health care law complies with requirements of the Constitution or exceeds the powers granted to Congress.
“This lawsuit is not about health care, it’s about our freedom,” said Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. “The government cannot draft an unwilling citizen into commerce just so it can regulate him under the commerce clause.”
The Obama health care plan requires Americans to purchase private health insurance at a certain level of coverage or pay a penalty or tax for their refusal.
The mandatory insurance provision takes effect in 2014.
According to Hudson, the core underpinning of the new law “is the notion that every individual will need medical services at some point. Everyone, voluntarily or otherwise, is therefore either a current or future participant in the heath care market.”
Those challenging the law argue that the measure exceeds congressional power to regulate interstate commerce. The health care law seeks to regulate not only economic activity, but also economic inactivity – extending to a citizen’s decision to avoid participation in a program, opponents say.
The law marks the first time the national government will order Americans to purchase a product from a private business and impose a tax on those who refuse, opponents say.
Administration lawyers counter that Congress has broad authority under the commerce clause to regulate private decisions about health care since those private decisions affect the health care system affects and interstate commerce. In addition, they say, federal lawmakers have the power to tax individuals who refuse to participate in programs mandated by the federal government.