U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled the healthcare reform law unconstitutional in Florida on Monday. Vinson dismissed the “individual mandate,” which would require most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay penalties.
Florida, joined by 25 states, brought the lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, arguing that Congress did not have the authority to force an individual to enter a marketplace or buy a particular good or service.
In his earlier ruling, Vinson said that a government report called the requirement to buy insurance legally unprecedented and worth examining in court.
“The individual mandate applies across the board. People have no choice and there is no way to avoid it. Those who fall under the individual mandate either comply with it, or they are penalized. It is not based on an activity that they make the choice to undertake. Rather, it is based solely on citizenship and on being alive,” he wrote.
I must conclude that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit,” the judge ruled.
The states argued that while Congress could regulate economic activity, it could not regulate “inactivity” such as an individual’s choice to refrain from buying health care insurance.
Vinson agreed, writing that it would be, “a radical departure” to hold that Congess could regulate inactivity.
“It is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted,” he wrote.
Justice Department lawyers had defended the law in court, arguing that the constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and that includes the health care costs of the uninsured, which reach $43 billion annually.
But the judge disagreed.
“Every person throughout the course of his or her life makes hundreds or even thousands of life decisions that involve the same general sort of thought process that the defendants maintain is ‘economic activity,'” Vinson ruled.
“I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the act with the individual mandate. That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care market is more than one-sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here,” Vinson wrote.
“While the individual mandate was clearly ‘necessary and essential’ to the act as drafted, it is not ‘necessary and essential’ to health care reform in general,” he continued. “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void.
In making his argument, Vinson threw back at the Obama administration President Obama’s own words from the 2008 presidential campaign, when the president as a candidate voiced opposition to the idea of forcing people to buy health insurance.
“Indeed, I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that ‘if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house,'” Vinson wrote.