A Florida judge has given the Obama administration at least 7 more days to proceed with implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson has issued an order granting an Obama administration request for a 7-day stay of a declaratory judgment Vinson entered in January.
To get the stay, the administration must file a notice of appeal within 7 calendar days and seek an expedited appellate review, according to Vinson, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla.
Vinson issued the order in connection with State of Florida et al. vs. United States Department of Health and Human Services et al., (Case Number 3:2010-cv-00091-RV).
Vinson held in the ruling that Congress has no authority under the Commerce Close to enforce the “minimum essential coverage provision” in PPACA, a major component of the Affordable Care Act package.
THE MINUMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE PROVISION
Starting in 2014, the minimum essential coverage provision would require most individuals to buy health coverage.
If the minimum coverage provision takes effect as enacted, it will require many people with incomes above a certain level who do not get health coverage from their employers to buy a minimum level of health coverage or else pay a penalty. The provision, set to take effect in 2014, provides for exceptions for individuals with religious objections to owning health coverage and individuals who cannot find affordable health coverage.
Health insurers have argued that they can provide affordable health coverage for all, without basing rates on health status, only if the government requires all people – including relatively young, healthy people – to have health coverage.
Vinson has ruled that, because, in his eyes, the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and because PPACA is not written in such a way that the mandate can be considered separately from the rest of the act, “the entire act must be declared void.”
THE NEW RULING
The Obama administration did not immediately ask for a stay of the January order, and it later filed a motion seeking clarification of the order.
In the January order, Vinson did not appear to include a clear ruling requiring the administration or states to stop implementing PPACA, some observers say.
The state of Florida and other plaintiffs in the case have argued that,
if “the government was not prepared to comply with the court’s judgment, the proper and respectful course would have been to seek an immediate stay, not an untimely and unorthodox motion to clarify,” Vinson notes in his ruling, quoting from the plaintiffs’ brief.
“I believe that my order was as clear and unambiguous as it could be,” Vinson writes.
Vinson says he has attempted to clarify the ruling in case the the defendants were confused.
“Like every single district court to consider this issue so far — including those that have ruled for the federal government — I rejected the defendants’ argument that the penalty should be construed as a tax barred by the Anti-Injunction Act,” Vinson says. “Instead, I concluded that it was a civil regulatory penalty which could not be based on the federal government’s broad taxing power.”
Vinson says he found that giving Congress the authority to regulate nonaction could give it the authority to make citizens take many other actions, such as eating broccoli.
Vinson says he did not try to separate the individual insurance ownership mandate from the rest of PPACA because it appeared that Congress had made an active decision to delete a severability clause from the act.
“Almost everyone agrees that the constitutionality of the act is an issue that will ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Vinson says. “It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward as soon as practically possible.”