Judge Gives The Go-Ahead To Virginia's Health Overhaul Challenge

In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson refused to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Virginia challenging a key aspect of the health care overhaul. The next round of arguments in this case is scheduled for October.

The Associated Press reports that the lawsuit has passed its first hurdle. "Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli claims in the lawsuit that Congress doesn't have the authority to require citizens to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson's ruling denied the Justice Department's attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed, saying further hearings are needed to weigh the merits of the case. An Oct. 18 hearing had previously been set." The Virginia General Assembly passed a law this year exempting state residents from the federal coverage mandate (Felberbaum, 8/2).

The Washington Post: "Hudson heard two hours of oral arguments in July. Cuccinelli's legal team argued that a person who has chosen not to buy insurance is not engaged in economic activity and, therefore, Congress cannot regulate his actions as interstate commerce. The administration countered that an insured person will eventually require health care. Going without health insurance is not inactivity – it's simply choosing not to pay for health care, a decision that shifts a $43 billion-a-year burden from the uninsured to the insured, their lawyers contended. (Helderman, 8/3).

Los Angeles Times: "President Obama and many healthcare experts think that requiring Americans to buy health coverage – and fining them if they do not – is the only way to assure that healthy people do not game the system by purchasing insurance only after they develop medical problems, thereby pushing up costs for everyone. Many legal experts also support the administration's view that because the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, lawmakers have broad authority to regulate the health insurance market. Critics argue that the insurance requirement is an unprecedented and illegal expansion of federal power" (Levey, 8/3).

The Roanoke Times: "In a 32-page opinion, Hudson ruled that the existence of the state law 'is sufficient to trigger the duty of the Attorney General of Virginia to defend the law and the associated sovereign power to enact it.' … Hudson underscored that his ruling today is limited to whether Virginia has standing to challenge the federal law" (Sluss, 8/2).

CongressDaily: "Hudson, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2002, refuted each of HHS' arguments in his opinion, ruling that the case was legitimate and that the law 'radically changes the landscape of health insurance coverage in America.' It 'literally forges new ground and extends commerce clause powers beyond its current high watermark,' he wrote. Peter Leibold, CEO of the American Health Lawyers Association, said such phrasing could give some insight into how Hudson might rule when the court proceeds to a full hearing on whether the law is constitutional" (McCarthy, 8/3).

The Virginian-Pilot: "Hudson's opinion sets the stage for oral arguments on Oct. 18 over 'whether or not Congress has the power to regulate -- and tax -- a citizen's decision not to participate in interstate commerce.' Many involved in this highly politicized case, which raises questions about federal powers and states rights, expect it will reach the U.S. Supreme Court" (Walker, 8/3).

Politico: "Hudson rejected the Justice Department's suggestions that the court would have to engage in improper speculation to assess the impact of the mandate more three years before it takes effect in 2014." Meanwhile, "[o]ther court challenges to the health care reform law are moving forward in Michigan, where a federal judge heard arguments last month from anti-abortion activists seeking to block the law, and in Florida, where 20 states have banded together in a challenge to the health reform measure. That suit is set for argument before a judge in Tallahassee on Sept. 14" (Gerstein, 8/2).

The Christian Science Monitor: "In noting the national significance of the issues and the murky state of the law, Hudson suggested there may be many legal twists and turns in the case ahead. 'While this court's decision may set the initial judicial course of this case, it will certainly not be the final word,' he said" (Richey, 8/2).

Bloomberg Businessweek: "'The decision is a procedural step that just means there will be a full hearing on the arguments,' U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters in a conference call after Hudson handed down his ruling. 'We remain confident that the case is solid and that there's a full constitutional case for the passage of the Affordable Care Act.' Virginia filed its suit within minutes of Obama signing the bill on March 23" (Harris and McQuillen, 8/2).

The Hill: "Stephanie Cutter, an assistant to President Obama who was brought on board at the White House in part to help sell the signature domestic initiative, dismissed a court's ruling against a White House bid to dismiss the suit. 'Having failed in the legislative arena, opponents of reform are now turning to the courts in an attempt to overturn the work of the democratically elected branches of government. This is nothing new,' Cutter wrote on the official White House blog. 'We saw this with the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act – constitutional challenges were brought to all three of these monumental pieces of legislation, and all of those challenges failed. So too will the challenge to health reform,'" Cutter wrote (O'Brien, 8/2).

Roll Call: "'This lawsuit is not about health care, it's about our freedom and about standing up and calling on the federal government to follow the ultimate law of the land – the Constitution,' Cuccinelli said. 'The government cannot draft an unwilling citizen into commerce just so it can regulate him under the Commerce Clause'" (Drucker, 8/2).

The New York Times: "Monday's opinion does not address the overall merits of the health care law. It has no direct effect on the 20 other state challenges, but it may influence the other judges" (Schwartz, 8/2).

MSNBC's First Read: Although the judge found "the law 'has a distinctive political undercurrent,'" Monday's ruling represents "an important tactical victory to challengers of the new health-care law" (Williams, 8/2).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.