KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Federal Lawyers Ask Judge To Dismiss Virginia Overhaul Lawsuit

Obama administration officials asked a judge to dismiss Virginia's lawsuit challenging the new health reform law because the state does not have standing to sue over the requirement that individuals will be required to buy health insurance, The Washington Post reports. "Federal attorneys argued that individuals, not the state, are affected by the requirement. … Further, they wrote that the mandate causes no injury to the state and will not take effect until 2014, making the legal challenge not yet timely."

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican, filed suit, arguing that a recent Virginia law saying residents can not be forced to buy insurance gives his state standing. Federal attorneys said, "If states could manufacture standing in the way Virginia attempts to do here, every policy dispute lost in the legislative arena could be transformed into an issue for decision by the court." The Obama administration also argues that the requirement is allowed under Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce, but "Cuccinelli maintained in his statement that a person who chooses not to buy health insurance is not engaged in commerce" (Helderman, 5/25).

The Richmond Times-Dispatch provides background on the case: "In March, Cuccinelli filed suit against the federal government saying that the legislation's insurance mandate -- which would require nearly every American to obtain insurance or face a fine by 2014 -- was unconstitutional. Cuccinelli's suit argues that by including the mandate, Congress overstepped its authority under the Commerce Clause in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, he argues, a recently passed Virginia law that prohibits residents from being compelled to purchase health insurance should prevail." That argument separates the Virginia case from a suit brought by more than a dozen other states that challenges the health overhaul on the grounds that it violates the 10th Amendment, which protects states' power (Nolan, 5/25).

The Virginian-Pilot: Meanwhile, "[a]dvocates of the health care plan say it will extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, some of whom receive health care treatment but lack insurance, a situation that can burden the system." The federal lawyers wrote in their response to Cuccinelli's filing, "Foregoing health insurance, however, is not the same as foregoing health care. When accidents or illnesses inevitably occur, the uninsured still receive medical assistance, even if they cannot pay" (Walker, 5/25).

The Roanoke Times: Saying that the insurance requirement therefore affects interstate commerce, "[t]he U.S. attorneys argued that the minimal coverage provision in new federal law is essential" if health insurance is to be available and affordable. "They noted that the federal law will, beginning in 2014, prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and from basing eligibility on factors such as health status, medical condition or medical history." Cuccinelli said--as he has before-- "Just being alive is not interstate commerce" (Sluss, 5/25).

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