Health Care Review

February 1, 2011

U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Florida Judge Roger Vinson issued a Jan. 31 ruling on the lawsuit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) brought by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business. Judge Vinson ruled that PPACA’s individual mandate to purchase insurance is not within the bounds of Congress’s power under the commerce clause.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum last March. Judge Vinson became the second federal judge to declare the law’s individual mandate to purchase insurance unconstitutional. A federal judge in Virginia, Henry Hudson, struck down the individual mandate provision of PPACA as unconstitutional last December.

However, Judge Vinson’s ruling goes further than Judge Hudson by finding that the mandate is “inextricably bound” to other provisions of the law, which makes it necessary to invalidate the entire law. He stopped short of ordering the federal government to stop implementing the law.

The Obama administration pushed back Monday with assurances that PPACA implementation will continue as the Department of Justice appeals the ruling in the federal appeals court for the 11th Circuit (following appeals in the Virginia lawsuit). The administration also notes that several other lawsuits have been thrown out before they got to the merits, and two federal judges have upheld the law.

The administration has continued to promulgate new rules and guidance implementing the new law. Most recently, Department of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined the benefits of the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit in a brochure. The brochure can be found on NSBA’s Health Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site.

In general, debate over health care reform policies took a brief hiatus after the passage of PPACA last year. However, the 112th Congress has picked up the pace in the few weeks they have been in session. Five hearings, including medical malpractice reform, insurance reform benefits, budget and jobs implications, already have been held. Additionally, the court ruling has spurred House and Senate Judiciary Committees to recently schedule hearings on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

The headlines generated by the court ruling also have provided members of Congress an opportunity to demand a Senate vote on the recently House-passed repeal legislation. While Democrats maintain the majority in the Senate, Republicans do have procedural options to bring about a vote on repeal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to offer an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill Wednesday in order to get a repeal vote.

While Republicans lack the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, their efforts are likely symbolic of myriad initiatives underway in the 112th Congress to attack PPACA. House and Senate Republicans continue to introduce legislation to amend, repeal, or defund various provisions of the new law.

NSBA will continue to monitor health care reform initiatives in Congress and elsewhere to ensure progress is made to benefit small business owners, their employees, and their families. Stay tuned to NSBA’s Health Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site for more news and information as it is made available.