Sixth Circuit hears arguments in challenge to health care law individual mandate

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] Wednesday heard oral arguments over a challenge to the individual mandate of the health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive]. The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) [advocacy website] is representing plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate which requires that all citizens purchase health insurance. The court divided the arguments into two parts, first addressing standing and then on the merits [oral arguments, audio]. One of the plaintiffs, Jann DeMars had complained that the individual mandate would be a financial burden on her, but she subsequently purchased health insurance through her employer when she received a new job. The government argued that the case should be dismissed for lack of standing since there is currently no injury in fact because the requirement to purchase insurance has not even taken effect. The plaintiffs argued though that there is a clear statutory burden being imposed as the plaintiffs are forced to rearrange their financial affairs in preparation for having to buy health insurance. On the merits, the court asked the parties to address whether the Anti-Injunction Act [text] applies, which prevents injunctions to tax burdens until they are enforced. Counsel representing the plaintiffs argued that the Act did not apply because the burden was a "penalty" and not a tax. The plaintiffs further argued that the individual mandate exceeded the federal government's power under the Commerce Clause because the mandate regulates "inactivity" by requiring individuals to purchase insurance. Counsel argued that it would likely be permissible for the government to provide tax incentives to encourage people to purchase health insurance, but forcing them to purchase by threat of a penalty is unconstitutional. The government argued that since DeMarrs now has insurance the case is moot. The government also argued that citizens will at some point not "choose" to participate in the health care market, citing the high costs that go unpaid because for care of the uninsured which gets passed on to insurance companies.

Before oral arguments the judges asked the parties to file briefs on whether the parties had standing [JURIST report] to bring a challenge before the effective date of the law. The individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HR 3590 materials], passed as part of the health care law, has been controversial spurring multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Earlier this month, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] sought to have its challenge reinstated in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] after it was dismissed by the lower court. Last February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the health care reform law as the government appeals from Vinson's January ruling finding the law unconstitutional [JURIST reports].

 

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