KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Florida Judge Signals He Will Likely Allow Some Parts Of States’ Health Law Challenge To Proceed

News outlets report on a court hearing Tuesday in Florida on the lawsuit brought by 20 states against the new federal health law.

Bloomberg: "U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola said ... he will make a decision by Oct. 14 on whether the states have jurisdiction to sue. He told lawyers he would probably dismiss part of the suit, while allowing other claims to proceed." The states involved in the lawsuit maintain that the federal government's "requirement that people buy health insurance" goes beyond Congress' constitutional powers. The "U.S. counters that the provision is allowed under its commerce powers because of the billions of dollars a year in unpaid medical bills absorbed by the market. ... The Justice Department claims the lawsuit is premature and fails to identify any injury the states have suffered" (McQuillen and Escobedo, 9/14).

Pensacola News Journal: Vinson did not say which cliams he would allow to go forward. Oral arguments on summary judgements are set for Dec. 16. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who filed the suit minutes after the health overhaul was signed into law, "was at today's hearing. Flanked by his counterparts from other states, McCollum spoke to supporters and media afterward. They predicted that an initial ruling would be issued before the end of the year, but that the case would ultimately end up before the Supreme Court" (Wernowsky, 9/14).

Palm Beach Post: "Arguments in [a] similar lawsuit filed by the state of Virginia will be heard in federal court in Richmond on Oct. 18" (Singer, 9/14).

Reuters: "Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the National Federation of Independent Business, which describes itself as the leading association representing small U.S. businesses in America. Apart from Florida, states joining in the lawsuit include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington" (Walsh, 9/14).

The Washington Post: Similar lawsuits in two states, California and Maryland, have been dismissed by judges. "As with the debate over the law itself, the effort to overturn it through the courts is causing political rifts in many states. Four governors who disagreed with the decisions by their attorneys general to join the multi-state suit have attempted to file amicus briefs supporting the Obama administration's position. ... Meanwhile, for all the public's discomfort with the new law, it is not clear that voters will reward those who seek to overturn it. Three attorneys general who took a prominent role in the lawsuit were recently defeated in Republican primaries, including McCollum, who lost his bid to be the GOP's nominee for governor of Florida" (Aizenman, 9/14).

Politico: "The National Federation of Independent Business joined the suit in May, arguing that the health care overhaul's employer requirements and tax reporting requirements would stifle new business creation. The group said Tuesday it believes the case will survive the government's motion" (Haberkorn, 9/14).

The New York Times: "Experts on both sides expect the challenges to eventually present the Supreme Court with a landmark opportunity. 'Our whole system of federalism rests on the decisions of this case,' said [McCollum]. ... By filing the lawsuit in Pensacola, Mr. McCollum ensured that the case would be heard by a Republican appointee to the District Court, and then by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, a generally conservative bench that handles cases from Florida." And indeed, some of the judge's comments seemed sympathetic to the lawsuit filers to at least let the case be heard. On the plaintiffs' assertion that a mandate in Medicaid to cover more poor would cast an undue cost burden on states, "[t]he judge seemed to empathize. 'This really puts all 50 states on the short end of the stick,' he said. 'States are in a Catch-22 situation'" (Sack, 9/14).

Gannett/(Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press: "The federal government will fully fund the Medicaid expansion for three years after the law takes effect in 2014. After that, it will fund 90 percent of the program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to the states at $20 billion. [Blaine Winship, who is representing the state of Florida in the suit] said the federal government painted states into a corner by saying states can simply pull out of the Medicaid program. By doing so, other state social programs that receive funding through Medicaid - like Florida's KidCare program - would also lose funding, he said" (9/15).

The Associated Press: "If Vinson upholds the states' challenge, he would overturn decades of law enforcing the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce, said Ian Heath Gershengorn, deputy assistant attorney general. ... The judge questioned whether the administration was correct in arguing that all Americans are active participants in the health care system regardless of whether they choose to have health insurance and are therefore subject to penalties under the government's authority to regulate commerce" (Nelson, 9/14).

NPR: Gershengorn said "that the states don't have the right to sue over the insurance mandate because they can't show harm. The provision doesn't take effect until 2014, and then he said only individual taxpayers should be able to sue once they face a fine for not buying coverage. The Obama administration made a similar argument in another state's challenge to the health care law. In Virginia, a judge there allowed the case to proceed, citing complex constitutional issues" (Elliot, 9/14).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.