TALLAHASSEE — Eyes Monday will be trained on Pensacola as the next chapter in national health care reform unfolds in a federal courtroom.
U.S. District Jude Roger Vinson is expected to rule as early as Monday on whether the Obama administration and Congress went too far in their effort to change the way medical treatment is paid for in the United States. Attorneys for the Obama administration and 26 U.S. states are sparring over whether the new health-care law oversteps constitutional limits on federal authority by requiring most Americans to buy medical insurance.
In December, Vinson heard three hours of testimony in the lawsuit filed by Florida and other states in March that the sweeping reform of the $2.5 trillion U.S. health-care system oversteps constitutional limits on federal power and would force massive spending on hard-pressed state governments.
The dispute over the plan, which was pushed through by Obama’s fellow Democrats in the U.S. Congress after months of bitter partisan wrangling, will very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Throughout the arguments, the judge repeatedly returned to the issue of whether Congress can force individuals to purchase a product, in this case health insurance, or face penalties if they don’t. Vinson’s pointed questioning of federal attorney centered around whether Congress could require citizens to make a consumer decision to buy something, a power, Vinson said, that would reflect an expansion of traditional authority over interstate commerce.
“It would be a giant leap,” Vinson said during deliberations in December.
Florida and other states are also hoping Vinson rules with them on another issue: That the law unconstitutionally expands Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care for the poor and disabled.
Under the health-care law, 18 million more people would become eligible for Medicaid, which would require states to spend more money on the program. Originally crafted as a voluntary program, Medicaid has become so large that states have no practical alternative but to participate, attorneys for the states contend. The federal program, which on average pays about 55 percent of Medicaid costs, pumps $251 billion a year to the states. It is the largest single federal grant and aid program to states.
Attorneys for the federal government argued that Congress has authority to regulate the scope the Medicaid program and courts have repeatedly upheld expansions of the original safety net program.
The health-care law is a cornerstone of Obama’s domestic agenda and aims to expand health insurance for millions more Americans while curbing costs. Administration officials have insisted it is constitutional and necessary to stem huge projected increases in health care costs.
They argue that health care is not like any other consumer product in that citizens receive health care whether they pay for it or not. The decision not to buy health insurance is therefore a consumer choice that can be regulated. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the National Federation of Independent Business, the national association representing small U.S. business.
E-mail Michael Peltier at firstname.lastname@example.org.