Federal Judge Upholds Individual Mandate in Healthcare Reform Law

October 07, 2010

October 7, 2010 — US District Judge George Steeh, in Detroit, Michigan, ruled today that the nation's constitution permits the federal government to require individuals to obtain health insurance coverage as part of the historic Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Steeh dismissed a lawsuit brought against the federal government by a Christian legal organization called the Thomas More Law Center and several individual plaintiffs that challenged the constitutionality of the so-called individual-mandate in the reform law. Similar lawsuits have cropped up in federal district courts in Florida, Virginia, and other states.

Rob Muise, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, told Medscape Medical News that Steeh was the first judge to rule on the constitutionality of the law but that he would not be the last. The Thomas More Law Center, he said, would appeal today's decision to a federal appeals court.

"I can't wait to argue this in appellate court, because I like our chances," said Muise.

Similar to plaintiffs in the other lawsuits, the Thomas More Law Center contends that the federal government has no constitutional right to compel individuals to obtain health insurance or to penalize them for not doing so. In essence, the center says, the ACA is an attempt to regulate not just individual activity but also individual inactivity, which opens the door to a complete loss of freedom.

The government has argued that it is legally operating under the constitution's commerce clause, which authorizes it to regulate interstate commerce. According to the federal brief, the individual mandate addresses a problem in the interstate market of healthcare created by people who forgo insurance. The cost of care that many of these individuals receive free of charge from hospitals and physicians gets shifted to providers, insurers, governments, and in the end, insured individuals and taxpayers, disrupting the marketplace, the government states.

Steeh agreed with the government's arguments about the commerce clause in his ruling today and also upheld the constitutionality of the penalty that individuals must pay for not obtaining insurance coverage.

Legal experts predict that no matter who wins or loses, the ACA lawsuits filed in various federal district courts will make their way to the US Supreme Court.

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