Court: Individual Mandate “Unconstitutional”

MedPage Today reports:

“By Joyce Frieden, News Editor, MedPage Today
Published: September 13, 2011

Just a week after winning two court victories in Virginia, the Obama administration’s healthcare reform law hit a legal wall in Pennsylvania when a U.S. District Court judge ruled that forcing Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

Ruling in the case of Goudy-Bachman et al v. United States Department of Health and Human Services et al. Judge Christopher Conner of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, in Scranton, wrote “The [individual mandate] provision of the [Affordable Care Act] exceeds Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause.”

The case was brought by a self-employed Pennsylvania couple who argued that they cannot afford health insurance. They challenged the individual mandate on the grounds that it violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which regulates interstate commerce.

The couple’s argument is similar to other cases that have been filed against the mandate, with mixed results.

Conner noted that “The court does not reach this conclusion because the alternative would be disastrous to this nation’s future” — one of the arguments the couple made in its lawsuit. “These suggestions of cataclysmic results .. are both unproductive and unpersuasive.”

But the judge took issue with the mandate because it requires people to buy something ahead of time that they may or may not need in the future. “Congress cannot require individuals … who are not currently seeking or receiving services in the healthcare market to purchase health insurance in order to stabilize the health insurance market,” he wrote. “Congress cannot mandate or regulate in anticipation of conduct that may or may not occur in the future.”

Until the Supreme Court decides that the Commerce Clause extends to such “anticipatory mandates,” the individual mandate “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny,” he concluded.

Conner did express some sympathy for the idea that the health insurance market is different from other industries. “In other markets, including other insurance markets, when an individual suffers a loss or is in need of a commodity or service (such as food, transportation, or housing) there is no obligation that society compensate for that loss or provide the commodity or service without advance payment,” he wrote. But many state and federal laws, such as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, require healthcare providers to serve patients in certain circumstances regardless of their ability to pay.

However, the Constitution doesn’t allow for exceptions based on the uniqueness of the market, he continued. “The court has been unable to find any precedent … that permits the expansion of the Commerce Clause authority to regulate individuals prior to their engagement in commercial activity on the basis of the unique nature of the market being regulated. This court is bound by the principles of stare decisis [basing decisions on precedent] and must reasonably interpret, not create, law.”

The judge also ruled that the individual mandate cannot be separated from the provisions in the ACA that require insurers to offer policies to everyone who applies, regardless of any preexisting conditions they may have; those provisions, too, are unconstitutional. “The remaining portions of the Act will be left intact to function in accordance with the intent of Congress,” he wrote.

The government now must decide whether to appeal the ruling.”