December 13, 2010

Judge Rules Health Care Reform Element Is ‘Unconstitutional’

A judge in Virginia ruled on Monday that a key part of the Obama administration's health care reform requiring all Americans to have insurance was unconstitutional.

This came as a major legal blow to President Barack Obama concerning the radical overhaul of the nation's health care system that has been a cornerstone of his administration.

"On careful review, this court must conclude that Section 1501 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- specifically the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision -- exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power," the federal judge said in his ruling.

Experts believe that the Supreme Court will eventually determine the fate of the health care bill.

Various states have vowed to fight the law and have mounted legal challenges against it with about 20 suits currently before the courts.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House office on health reform, played down the ruling by pointing to the other cases pending on the constitutionality of the law.

"This is one of 20 and we have already prevailed in two others," she told CNN. "We believe the law is constitutional.

"We believe it is constitutional to say that everybody needs to be in the system, that everybody needs to have health insurance if they can afford it, if they can't they get help doing it."

She added: "The lawyers at the justice department they will be making decisions, and making a recommendation of how we move forward."

Republicans have vowed to roll back the reform when they formally take control of the House of Representatives in January, after making major gains in the November elections.

"You'll see us move quickly enough," leading Republican John Boehner promised last month. He is set to replace Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

He said that Republicans believe that Obama's health care overhaul "will bankrupt our nation" and "believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with common-sense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance."

The Obama administration is expected to appeal the ruling.

The decision is the first major hurdle against the law that was passed in March and aimed at overhauling the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system.

Two judges rejected other challenges to the law, including one in Virginia last month.

Later on this week, a judge will hear the arguments in a multi-state lawsuit against the law in Florida.

"Eventually this whole thing probably has to go through the Supreme Court," Ana Gupte, analyst with Sanford Bernstein, who covers health insurers in New York, told Reuters. "I would be surprised at the end of the day if the Supreme Court rules against the individual mandate."

She added, the individual mandate is a "critical component of the law."