Appeals Court: ACA's Mandate Unconstitutional


A federal appeals court in Atlanta has struck down the Affordable Care Act's requirement that individuals purchase health insurance.

In a 2-1 ruling issued Aug. 12, the court declared that the so-called individual mandate violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that Congress overstepped its authority in creating the requirement to buy insurance. The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of 26 states that oppose the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that the individual mandate infringes on the constitutional rights of individuals not to purchase insurance, and that the expansion of Medicaid will create an undue burden on state governments.

By ruling the individual mandate is unconstitutional, the appeals court affirms in part a ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, Fla., in January. The appeals court disagreed with Judge Vinson's decision to declare the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, however. The higher court concluded that the individual mandate could be stripped out, allowing the rest of the law to stand.

Stephanie Cutter, a deputy senior adviser to President Obama, wrote in a blog post on Aug. 12 that the White House was disappointed in the ruling but confident that it would be overturned.

“The individual responsibility provision – the main part of the law at issue in these cases – is constitutional,” Ms. Cutter wrote. “Those who claim this provision exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce are incorrect. Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are making an economic decision that affects all of us – when people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, those with insurance and taxpayers are often left to pick up the tab.”

The ruling in Atlanta is one of more than 25 legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act that are happening in courthouses around the country. Legal scholars expect that one of these challenges is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court in the next few years.

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