A 3-judge panel at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed two challenges to the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) health insurance ownership requirements on procedural grounds.
In one case, Virginia vs. Sebelius, the panel ruled 3-0 that Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli lacks standing to challenge the PPACA health insurance ownership requirements because only the residents of Virginia are affected by the mandate.
In another ruling, on Liberty University vs. Geithner, the panel ruled 2-1 that Liberty University filed its suit challenging the mandate too soon.
If the PPACA coverage ownership requirements take effect in 2014 and work as drafters expect, the provisions will require individuals who do not get religious exemptions and who earn income over a minimum level to have “minimum essential coverage” or else pay a $695 yearly penalty.
In the Virginia case, “the sole provision challenged here – the individual mandate – imposes no obligations on the sole plaintiff, Virginia,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz writes in an opinion for the 3-judge panel. “Notwithstanding this fact, Virginia maintains that it has standing to bring this action because the individual mandate allegedly conflicts with a newly enacted state statute, the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act.”
The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act (VHCFA) states that residents of Virginia are not required to buy health insurance.
“Contrary to Virginia’s arguments, the mere existence of a state law like the VHCFA does not license a state to mount a judicial challenge to any federal statute with which the state law assertedly conflicts,” Motz says. “Rather, only when a federal law interferes with a state’s exercise of its sovereign ‘power to create and enforce a legal code’ does it inflict on the state the requisite injury-in-fact.”
In the Liberty University opinion, Motz writes, “Because this suit constitutes a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax, the Anti-Injunction Act strips us of jurisdiction. Accordingly, we must vacate the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.”
The plaintiffs in the Liberty University case have argued that they want pay for health care as needed rather than buying health insurance.
The plaintiffs have noted that PPACA gives the Treasury secretary, the official who oversees the Internal Revenue Service, the power to use individual income tax returns to collect penalties from individuals who fail to comply with the PPACA coverage ownership mandate.
Like other plaintiffs who have challenged the constitutionality of the PPACA coverage ownership requirements, the plaintiffs in the Liberty University say Congress is exceeding the authority it has under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to regulate interstate commerce.