Appeals Court Upholds Individual Mandate

June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011 — A federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, today placed its constitutional stamp of approval on the linchpin of the embattled Affordable Care Act (ACA): the requirement that individuals either obtain health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

Today's decision is the first one on the federal appellate level regarding the healthcare reform law passed last year. So far, 2 federal district judges have declared the so-called individual mandate unconstitutional, saying that Congress has no right under the constitution's commerce clause to regulate an individual's economic "inactivity." In contrast, 3 other federal district judges have agreed with the position of the Obama administration that uninsured "free riders" are indeed active participants in the healthcare marketplace, receiving free or subsidized services when needed, and driving up premiums and healthcare costs for others in the process.

The various district cases are now making their way through the federal appellate courts, with their final destination being the US Supreme Court.

The federal appeals court in Cincinnati reviewed a district court case brought against the Obama administration by several individual plaintiffs and a Christian legal organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called the Thomas More Law Center. They had contended that allowing the government to compel individuals to obtain health insurance would open the door to a complete loss of individual freedom. Those arguments failed to sway US District Judge George Steeh in Detroit, Michigan, who ruled last October that Congress was within its constitutional rights when it crafted the individual mandate to correct the problem of cost-shifting created by the uninsured.

The appellate court reiterated the lower court's reasoning.

"Far from regulating inactivity, the [individual mandate] regulates active participation in the health care market," stated US Circuit Judge Boyce Martin, Jr, who wrote the majority opinion of the 3-judge panel. "Virtually everyone requires health care services at some unpredictable point...and individuals receive health care services regardless of ability to pay."

Senior US District Judge James Graham, who sat on the appellate panel, dissented on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

"If the exercise of power is allowed and the mandate is upheld, it is difficult to see what limits on Congress' Commerce Clause authority would be," Graham wrote. "What aspect of human activity would escape federal power? Such a power feels very much like the general police power that the Tenth Amendment reserves to the states and the people."

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