Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Rules PPACA's Mandate to Buy Health Insurance Unconstitutional: Decision Leads to a Split in Federal Appellate Courts

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A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has declared the ‘individual mandate’ to purchase health insurance unconstitutional, which is a core element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (PPACA). Two out of three judges found the mandate that forces individuals to purchase health insurance represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

In the majority opinion, Judges Dubina and Hull wrote that, “The federal government’s assertion of power, under the Commerce Clause, to issue an economic mandate for Americans to purchase insurance from a private company for the entire duration of their lives is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure.”

This decision conflicts with a Sixth Circuit Appellate ruling made in late June that upheld the constitutionality of PPACA. Click here to read more about that decision.  With both the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits weighing in, court watchers are now looking to the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit for its ruling. 

No matter how the Fourth Circuit Appellate Court rules, the existing split decisions at both the federal district and appellate levels all but guarantees that President Obama’s health care reform law will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court later this year or in 2012. 

It is customary for the more complicated laws that pass through Congress to include what is called a “severability clause.” According to a June 8 LA Times article, a severability clause allows a law to stand even if a portion of it is struck down. In regards to Obama’s health care bill, the version that went through the U.S. House of Representatives included this clause, but the version that went through the U.S. Senate did not. In the rush to get everything in and completed at the last minute, the House adopted the Senate’s version that lacked this provision.

Any doubts that the Obama administration may have had about the health care law facing opposition in court was wiped away in the opening statement by Chief Judge Dubina, who said, “If we uphold this, are there any limits,” referring to the power of the federal government.

This case drew more attention than other cases regarding the legality of PPACA because it involved 26 state attorney generals, who are said to be seeking relief by declaring the act of forcing individuals to purchase health care unconstitutional.

The administration defends the mandate.  “We strongly disagree with this decision and we are confident that it will not stand,” said Stephanie Cutter, a Deputy Senior Advisor to President Obama in an internet posting statement. “The individual responsibility provision – the main part of the law at issue in these cases – is constitutional. Those who claim this provision exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce are incorrect.”

This decision is significant for several reasons:

  • This decision represents the first time a federal appellate court has found the individual mandate clause unconstitutional.
  • It is the first bi-partisan decision to overturn the individual mandate clause. Judge Dubina was appointed by President George W. Bush and Judge Hull was appointed by President Clinton. The argument that the supporters of the PPACA that the attacks are purely partisan no longer apply.

  • It short-circuits the ability of the U.S. Justice Department to continue to delay these issues from appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Many observers considered it to be in President Obama’s best interests to have this case heard by the Supreme Court after the November 2012 presidential election. The Justice Department could further delay the process and ask the Eleventh Circuit Court to hear the entire case, but that entails some risk as the Justice Department has already been criticized for its delaying tactics.

For background on previous court rulings, check the previous posts by BenefitMall:

Benefit Mall will continue to keep you apprised of the latest developments as health care reform continues to evolve. For blog posts, legislative alerts, pools, surveys and other resources, visit www.HealthcareExchange.com or www.benefitmall.com.

I am disappointed that you

I am disappointed that you keep referring to PPACA as "President Obama's healthcare law." I'd like to remind you of something called checks and balances that is built into our legislative system. The law was created and passed by both houses of Congress - Obama only signed the law. Sure, he pushed for healthcare reform, which most people agree was, and still is, needed (not health insurance reform, but actual health CARE reform), but he did not force our members of Congress to vote this particular bill into law. I would appreciate it if you began to call the bill by its proper name, abbreviations, or if you must imbue your articles with political intrigue, you should call it "Congress's law."

Sara James
Houston, Texas

I don't necessarily disagree

I don't necessarily disagree with Ms. James' opinion on how the PPACA should be referred to. That being said, taken to its logical conclusion, the war in Iraq should be called "Congress's war" - not "Bush's war" as many times labeled by those opposing it.


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