Is President Obama's health-care reform act constitutional? Image: Caveman Chuck Coker/Flickr/CC BY-ND

A key requirement of the 2010 health-care reform act that President Obama signed into law in 2010 has been ruled against by a federal judge in Pennsylvania. Judge Christopher C. Conner said Tuesday that the provision requiring most Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine is not constitutional.

Government of ‘limited enumerated powers’

“Scores of individuals are uninsured and the costs to all citizens are measurable and significant. The federal government, however, is one of limited enumerated powers, and Congress’s efforts to remedy the ailing health-care and health-insurance markets must fit squarely within the boundaries of those powers,” Conner said.

Filed by disgruntled couple

Thirty lawsuits have been filed nationally, challenging the provision of the 2010 law. The case Conner ruled on was filed by a Pennsylvania couple, Gregory Bachman, 56, and Barbara Goudy-Bachman, 48. They are self-employed and say they dropped health insurance in 2001 when their premiums exceeded the cost of their mortgage. Since then, the lawsuit says, they have paid all medical expenses out of pocket and saved money doing so. They believe they should have the right to opt out of the health-care system without being fined.

‘Unproductive an unpersuasive’

Conner did, however, reject the plaintiffs’ argument that the mandate could predicate the nation’s conversion into a socialist state. He argued that both claims were “unproductive and unpersuasive.”

U.S. DOJ asserts constitutionality

Tracy Schmaler, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a statement that the agency believes the act is constitutional and reminded readers that it has been upheld by appellate courts in the past. She did not indicate, however, whether the administration plans to appeal the Pennsylvania ruling.

Other rulings

Three federal appeals courts have reviewed the same issue. A panel of judges in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled in favor of the act’s constitutionality in June, 2 to 1. An appeals court in Atlanta rejected the act in August by the same margin. Last week, an appellate court in Richmond, Va., rejected two similar lawsuits on technical issues. The penalty for not buying insurance, the court said, constitutes taxation. A tax cannot be challenged until it has been collected, the court argued.

The Supreme Court will not meet again until October. The  earliest a health care case could be heard, should the court decide to review the decision, would be early 2012.


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