KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Virginia Challenge To Health Overhaul Goes To Court

Justice Department and the state of Virginia lawyers faced off Thursday in the first challenge of the federal government's authority to require people purchase health insurance.

The New York Times: Virginia is one of 21 states seeking to invalidate the law. "In a two-hour hearing before a federal district judge here, Justice Department lawyers argued that the Commonwealth of Virginia did not have legal standing to challenge the law, and that it could not, in any event, win its argument that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority." The judge, Henry Hudson, was appointed by George H.W. Bush. He said he would rule within 30 days. "Virginia's lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Ken T. Cuccinelli II with the support of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, is one of more than 15 legal challenges to various components of the health care law. Both Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. McDonnell are Republicans" (Sack, 7/1).

NPR: "The legal challenges center on two main ideas: First, that the federal government is engaging in a power grab and going far beyond its authority to direct the states to action. The conflict between states' rights and federal authority goes all the way back to the Civil War. Second, states argue that Congress is imposing an unfunded mandate by misusing the commerce clause to regulate financial activity. Florida's lawsuit is the next-biggest case in line in the courts." Legal experts say whatever happens, these types of lawsuits are bound to end up in the Supreme Court (Johnson, 7/2).

The Washington Post: "Arguing the case for Virginia, Solicitor General E. Duncan Getchell Jr. told a judge that it would be 'unprecedented,' 'ahistorical' and 'radical' for the federal government to require an individual to buy a private product - in this case, health insurance. … Acting on behalf of the Obama administration, Deputy Attorney General Ian Heath Gershengorn argued that a state suit is not appropriate because the provision of the law that Cuccinelli has challenged - the requirement that people buy insurance or pay a fine - affects individuals" (Helderman, 7/2).

Reuters: "If the case is not dismissed, both sides will return to court on October 18 for a summary judgment. If it is dismissed, Virginia will likely appeal and keep the suit in the courts. Regardless, other lawsuits will proceed, including one filed in Florida by more than a dozen states. In July alone, the federal government will have to argue in court twice, once in California on July 16 and once in Michigan on July 21." But Hudson, Reuters reports, "seemed skeptical of the idea that everyone in the country participates in the commerce of healthcare, saying that this could establish the paradox that a form of economic inactivity - not buying insurance - would be considered an economic activity. He did not question as much the federal government's other argument that Virginia cannot pass a law opting out of a federal law" (Lambert, 7/1).

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