Threatening the foundation of health care reform legislation, a federal judge has ruled that the law’s requirement that individuals must purchase a minimum level of coverage is unconstitutional.
Henry Hudson of the Eastern District in Richmond, Va., ruled Dec. 13 that the so-called individual mandate was unconstitutional, stating in his ruling that existing case law does not support requiring individuals to purchase insurance.
The law’s 2014 requirement that individuals must purchase a certain level of coverage or pay a penalty will likely eventually be heard by the Supreme Court, said Jon Alexander, compliance counsel with Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.
Western Growers, the American Farm Bureau Federation and other business groups have voiced objections to the law based on the cost and complexity to businesses.
Supporters of the law believe the mandate is permitted under the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, which provides the government with authority to make rules regarding economic activity among the states.
Though he likes the District Court’s argument against the mandate, Alexander said he expects the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate and extend the power of Congress.
“We have seen over the course of the Supreme Court’s history is that they often seem to extend Congress’ power and if they didn’t it would be quite a reversal in the past 70 years of jurisprudence when it comes to the Commerce Clause,” he said.
Alexander said the new Congress, with a strong showing by Republicans in November, may be able to influence the rulemaking and temper the impact of the health care reform law on businesses.
Pat Wolff, health care legislative specialist with the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, agreed the Virginia case will put the law on a pathway to the Supreme Court. She said the Virginia court case won’t have any immediate effect on implementation of health care reform legislation.
Wolff said she expects Congress will vote on a repeal of the health care reform legislation early next year. Even if the repeal passes Congress, she said the vote will be largely symbolic because President Obama will likely veto it, Wolff said. Following that vote, Congress will work at trying to change the law, Wolff said.
The American Farm Bureau Federation will issue a statement of policy in mid-January on whether members favor repeal or modification of the law, she said. During consideration of the legislation, she said the Farm Bureau objected to the individual mandate.
Wolff said that federal rules haven’t yet been issued on how seasonal farm workers will be covered under the law.