Federal judge strikes individual mandate

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Tuesday the requirement imposed by federal health reform that individuals must buy health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner in Harrisburg declared the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exceeds Congress's authority under the U.S. Constitution.

"The nation undoubtably faces a health care crisis," Conner said. "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."

According to Bloomberg, three federal appeals courts have weighed in on the insurance-buying mandate since June 29. "A Cincinnati panel backed the provision, 2-1, while one in Atlanta voted it down by the same margin. The U.S. appeals court in Richmond on Sept. 8 rejected two separate challenges on jurisdictional grounds.

"The Harrisburg ruling, if appealed, would be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which hasn’t yet ruled on the merits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

Conner also struck down other elements of health reform, in a decision to exercise caution to only sever "problematic portions," and leave the rest intact. He conceded that the guaranteed issue and preexisting condition provisions should be carved out of health reform because these provisions are linked to the individual mandate and are partially funded by that mandate.

A staff writer at Philly.com reports the lawsuit was brought by a married couple in York County who "sued Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is overseeing the health-care plan, to overturn the law. The couple, Barbara Goudy-Bachman and her husband, Gregory Bachman, said they had dropped their own health coverage because it exceeded the cost of their mortgage payments." 

More coverage of the individual mandate from BenefitsPro

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