The Courts Weigh In

By Lisa Beyer

Aug. 31, 2011

M ore than a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging various aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act since it took effect in March 2010. However, as of mid-August, only four cases were of any significance, according to legal experts including Webb Millsaps, an associate with the law firm McDermott Will & Emery in New York City.

Millsaps says that while there’s a perception that a lot is going on, the action mostly centers on the four lawsuits that have reached three federal courts of appeal. “Many of the initial lawsuits were dropped because the plaintiffs were deemed to have no standing to bring the cases forward,” he says.

Millsaps says the case most people are watching is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The state initially won the case in federal district court, where a judge ruled that the individual coverage mandate in the health care reform law is unconstitutional and unseverable and, therefore, the entire law must be void. The Obama administration appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, which on Aug. 12 found that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring Americans to buy coverage, but also ruled that the rest of the wide-ranging law could remain in effect.

In the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit—Liberty University v. Geithner and Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius—were pending at deadline. In Liberty University, the Obama administration prevailed at the district court level; in Virginia, a trial court judge ruled that the individual-coverage mandate in the health care reform law is unconstitutional, but upheld the rest of the law, finding the individual mandate severable. In another case, Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, the plaintiff lost at the trial court level and before the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit, and has now appealed to the U.S.

Supreme Court. Millsaps says it is unlikely the Supreme Court will consider that case before seeing what happens in the other appeals. “No one was surprised by this ruling [in the Thomas More case] because the plaintiff is a private citizen with little standing,” Millsaps says. “What made it newsworthy was that the judge was a Republican appointee who sided with the law being constitutional.”

Ultimately, the future of the health care reform legislation will likely be decided by the Supreme Court.

Workforce Management, September 2011, p. 20Subscribe Now!

Lisa Beyer is a writer based in Florida.

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