Fla. judge overturns individual mandate provision in healthcare-reform law

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A federal judge in Florida has overturned a key portion of the healthcare-reform law and ruled that the entire law must be scrapped.

In a 78-page decision, Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, ruled that The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy insurance or incur fees — also known as the individual mandate, which would take effect in 2014 — was unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. He also ruled that the bill must be considered unconstitutional in its entirety, thus overturning it in full. The Obama administration has announced it will appeal the ruling.

“I emphasized once before, but it bears repeating again: This case is not about whether the act is wise or unwise legislation, or whether it will solve or exacerbate the myriad [of] problems in our healthcare system,” Vinson wrote in his decision. “In fact, it is not really about our healthcare system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, and it raises very important issues regarding the constitutional role of the federal government.”

Still, Vinson did not issue an immediate injunction against the bill, allowing it to continue taking effect pending an appeals process that could take two years. He also did not mention the bill’s provision of a regulatory approval pathway for follow-on biologics.

Supporters of the bill have argued that the individual mandate provision is needed to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, who might be tempted to wait to purchase insurance until they actually need it rather than buying it beforehand. In addition, a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office found that repeal of the bill would add $230 billion to the federal deficit and leave tens of millions without health insurance.

Twenty-six states have filed lawsuits against the bill since President Barack Obama signed it into law last March. The new Congress also mounted a largely symbolic effort to overturn the bill once members took their seats last month.

In December 2010, District Judge Henry Hudson in Virginia also ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional.

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