TALLAHASSEE — The fight over national health care advanced last week as Florida and 25 other states took their case to a federal appellate court in Atlanta, the next stop in a journey that will inevitably end at the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a legal battle pitting Florida and half the country against the Patient Protection Act (aka ObamaCare), the much-watched arguments on whether the feds can force citizens to carry health insurance highlighted a litigation-soaked week as lawsuits were filed on a number of fronts by groups unhappy with a host of issues from offshore oil drilling to gun rights.
Florida has spearheaded legal efforts to strike down the law that will require almost all Americans to have health insurance starting in 2014 — a requirement known widely as the “individual mandate.’’ Based on discussions at last week’s hearing, the concept is expected to be the linchpin on whether the sweeping health insurance plan will survive or not.
Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice argued that by not purchasing insurance, consumers have in fact made an economic decision on how to pay for their health care. Uninsured people seek care at hospital emergency rooms, shifting billions of dollars a year in costs to other people who pay them through increased insurance premiums.
Attorneys representing the states say the notion that Congress can force someone to buy a product, in this case health insurance, is anti-thematic to the concept of individual liberty.
The appellate court appearance was the most visible of a handful of legal challenges fought throughout the week. On Monday a group of physicians filed suit in a Miami federal court to nullify a controversial measure backed by the National Rifle Association that prohibits health practitioners from routinely asking their patients if they own guns and have them properly stored.
In a battle pitting the First Amendment against the Second Amendment, attorneys representing pediatricians and family doctors are asking the federal court to throw out the recently approved measure they say steps illegally between a patient and their physician by limiting the types of questions practitioners can ask.
Later in the week, environmentalists filed another federal lawsuit in Miami, this one claiming federal officials overseeing a Shell Oil request to drill in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico are relying on false assumptions and accepting inadequate safety standards to prevent a repeat of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.
Less than a year after oil stopped flowing from the worst spill in U.S. history, a coalition of environmental groups including Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Gulf Restoration Network filed suit in the 11th Circuit Court to stop federal officials from giving the company permission to drill in deep water about 70 miles off the Louisiana coast.
The plaintiffs contend risk data used by the industry, which says the chance of a spill are 1 in 10,000, include shallow water rigs and therefore underestimate the probability of a spill. Their own analysis of deepwater rigs points to a 1 in 43 chance of a spill. They also say safety protocols and machinery needed to respond to a deepwater blowout won’t be in place until 2012.
“No reasonable person would agree to a 2.5 percent chance of having their house catch on fire,” Earthjustice attorney David Guest said.
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