The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Florida ruled Jan. 31.
In his 78-page ruling in State of Florida et al. vs. United States Department of Health and Human Services et al., U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled that PPACA’s requirement that individuals must purchase health insurance violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Twenty-five other states had joined the suit as plaintiffs.
In finding the individual mandate unconstitutional, Vinson also found that it is not “severable” from the rest of the law. (Unlike most laws, PPACA lacks a “severability” clause, which provides that if one part of the law is struck down, the rest survives.)
Describing PPACA as like “a finely crafted watch” in which “one essential piece is defective and must be removed,” Vinson ruled that the entire law must be struck down. “There are simply too many moving parts” to allow some parts of the law to stand, Vinson wrote. “The Act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”
Vinson did uphold PPACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program, rejecting the states’ argument that the expansion infringes on their sovereignty.
He also denied the states’ request for an injunction that would have halted implementation of PPACA while the decision is appealed. Such an injunction is not necessary, he wrote, because of “the long-standing presumption” that the executive branch will obey federal court rulings.
Vinson’s ruling is the fourth addressing PPACA’s constitutionality, and the second to find that at least part of the law violates the Commerce Clause. In striking down the entire law, however, Vinson went further than did an earlier ruling in a Virginia case.
So far the PPACA decisions are falling along party lines. Of the four decisions issued to date, the two upholding the law were issued by judges appointed by Democrats, while the two rejecting the law were issued by judges appointed by Republicans. Vinson is a Reagan appointee.
In a passage that is likely to stir discussion among political commentators, Vinson invoked the Boston Tea Party of 1773 in his ruling: “It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place,” he wrote.
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