President Barack Obama’s ground-breaking healthcare reform has met an obstacle after a federal judge from Florida called the overhaul unconstitutional on Monday.
US District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the reform law’s so-called individual mandate went too far in requiring Americans to begin buying health insurance by 2014 or risk being penalized.
“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications,” Vinson wrote.
Referring to a key provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Vinson sided with governors and attorneys general from 26 states, nearly all of whom are Republicans.
“Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution,” ruled Vinson.
The administration may now ask the appeals court to hold off on any law changes pending an appeal of Judge Vinson’s decision. The issue will likely end up at the Supreme Court for final determination.
Healthcare reform aims to expand health insurance to cover millions of uninsured Americans while curbing healthcare costs. Administration officials insist it is constitutional and needed to curb likely increases in healthcare costs.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an influential national advocacy group that pushed for the healthcare overhaul, was disgusted with Vinson’s decision, calling it an example of “radical judicial activism run amok” and predicted it would be reversed on appeal.
“The decision flies in the face of three other decisions, contradicts decades of legal precedent, and could jeopardize families’ health care security,” Pollack told Reuters in a statement.
Vinson struggled with his decision, acknowledging that it was “hard to invalidate” the statute.
The individual mandate is key to the law’s mission of covering more than 30 million uninsured. Officials argue that the mandate is only requiring healthy people to purchase policies that they can help pay for reforms, including a mandate that individuals with pre-existing medical issues cannot be refused coverage.
The ruling follows the US House of Representatives vote earlier this month to repeal the healthcare overhaul law.
The repeal measure is unlikely to go any further as the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to drop it. Legal experts agree the real battle over reform is destined for the Supreme Court.
States involved in the lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Maine, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
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