Eleventh Circuit Hamstrings Health Care

Last week, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional the provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring Americans to buy health insurance or face penalties.

The ruling, handed down in Atlanta, marks the second of at least three appellate reviews the so-called “individual mandate” will face. In June, the individual mandate was found constitutional by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, and the Fourth Circuit is expected to rule shortly in Richmond, Va.
Judges Joel Dubina and Frank Hull wrote that the federal government lacks the authority to compel lifetime purchase of insurance: “The power that Congress has wielded via the Commerce Clause for the life of this country remains undiminished. Congress may regulate commercial actors. It may forbid certain commercial activity. It may enact hundreds of new laws and federally-funded programs, as it has elected to do in this massive 975-page Act,” they wrote. “But what Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”

The individual mandate is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Opponents argue that without the mandate, the entire law must fail.

Because two federal circuit courts have decided the issue differently and more may follow suit, the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to determine the issue, possibly as soon as its term beginning this October.