Health Care Lawsuit The Obamacare Lawsuits Explained
Court Rejects Obamacare Lawsuit Challenging Contraceptive Coverage Provision
On July 17, 2012, a Nebraska federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by seven states challenging contraception coverage requirements in the federal health care law. Judge Warren Urbom of Lincoln tossed out the federal lawsuit on the ground that the plaintiffs did not have the standing to file a lawsuit seeking to block the part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The Republican-dominated administrations in seven states, Nebraska, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas, along with co-plaintiffs, a nun, a missionary, and three Nebraska-based church-affiliated institutions, the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, Pius X High School, and Catholic Social Services had challenged the contraception rule on the ground that it was against their religious liberties.
The act, popularly known as Obamacare, is a brainchild of President Barack Obama and seeks to extend affordable health care benefits to all U.S. citizens. The President signed the bill into law on March 23, 2012, following a series of considerations by the Congress for over a year. The United States Supreme Court upheld the health care overhaul law on June 28, 2012.
The Health and Human Services mandate under the Affordability Care Act makes contraception coverage a part of all health care plans, including those for employees working in institutions affiliated to religious bodies. The Catholic Church that runs hospitals, schools, and outreach programs strongly opposes the use of birth control measures. These religious bodies argued before the court that the challenged part of the act was a violation of their rights to reject contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs for women.
The judge dismissed the lawsuit meant to block the health care reforms based on disposition by the U.S. Justice Department that the enforcement of the contraception law has been deferred until August 2013 to enable the administration and religious groups to work out a "safe harbor" provision. Judge Urbom believes the plaintiffs have no locus standi to challenge the federal administration as the protection guaranteed under the First Amendment is not applicable in this case. According to him, there is no immediate threat to the plaintiffs as the law is undergoing a process to accommodate concerns raised by them and they have failed to establish their legal standing to sue the federal law.
U.S. Supreme Court Verdict on Obamacare Lawsuit
On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the federal health care law with five judges in favor and four expressing dissent. The court ruled that the mandatory requirement put forth by the act for most U.S. citizens to buy health insurance coverage or pay penalty was valid and approved by the Congress power to levy taxes. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with four liberal judges supporting the health care reforms.
The Supreme Court granted a review of the following four issues that have been the focus of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act.
- The Anti-injunction Act barring the Supreme Court from reviewing petitions challenging tax definition for penalty imposed for not purchasing health insurance
- Constitutional validity of individual mandate clause in the Obamacare requiring everyone to buy health insurance
- Severability issue related to the individual mandate provision in question
- Validity of Medicaid expansion mandated by the Affordability Care Act
The Supreme Court heard arguments on these four issues for six hours over three days between March 26 and March 28, 2012. The court upheld the individual mandate and Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the judgment that the penalty for not purchasing insurance could be legally characterized as a tax and the constitution permitted for the same. The court saw problems with the Medicaid expansion issue, but fell short of striking it down. It observed that the Congress has no authority in coercing states to accept the expansion by threatening to stop federal payments. The Supreme Court allowed Medicaid expansion on the ground that it could proceed as long as the federal government did not penalize states not participating in the law's expansion.
Obamacare Lawsuits Key Challenges and Decisions
More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed by states, colleges, TV networks, and private parties in different federal courts across the country. More than 25,000 individuals and entities are party to one lawsuit, Shreeve vs. Obama. The majority of Obamacare lawsuits have been filed by Republican-administered states and a variety of religious and professional groups opposing certain parts of the Health and Human Services. The following are some of the rulings of a number of district courts on the constitutional validity of the Affordability Care Act:
- In October 2010, Judge George Caram Steeh of the Michigan East Federal Court upheld the validity of the individual mandate in a landmark judgment in Thomas More Law Center v Obama. The plaintiff had challenged the health care on two counts – the Congress had no authority to pass the PPACA and penalty provisions are against the Constitution.
- In November 2010, the U.S. District Court for Western Virginia granted the defendants the motion to dismiss a lawsuit that challenged constitutionality of the individual mandate and employer coverage citing statutory and religious grounds. The court refused to accept the legal standing of plaintiffs led by Liberty University, a college set up by conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell.
- In December 2010, a U.S. District Court in New Jersey rejected an Obamacare lawsuit seeking invalidation of the act. The plaintiffs, a patient, a cardiologist, and a physicians' advocacy group moved the court on the ground that the health care law was a violation of the Commerce Clause and the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In another lawsuit filed by two individuals, the court also ruled in April 2011 that the plaintiffs were not eligible to challenge the act on the ground that the act did not impact them. The lawsuit sought to nullify the act claiming that President Obama is ineligible to hold the post and the Congress has no authority to make revenue raising laws on its own.
- On December 13, 2010, in a first of such judgments, Judge Henry E. Hudson of the Virginia East District Court struck down the individual mandate part of the health care act. The court ruled that it is beyond congressional power to approve the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision.
- In two separate judgments, on October 14, 2010, and January 31, 2011, the federal court for Northern District of Florida gave a verdict against the individual mandate clause observing that penalty for not purchasing health insurance did not constitute a part of the power of the Congress to levy tax. Judge Roger Vinson, in his second opinion, ruled against severance of the individual mandate the remainder of the act. The case was joined by a number of other states.
- In February 2011, Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia rejected a petition challenging the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The plaintiffs had sought to declare the provision as unconstitutional and a violation of the Commerce Clause.
- On September 13, 2011, the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania invalidated the individual mandate and clauses restricting insurers from the health care act. According to Judge Christopher Conner, the power of the Congress to regulate interstate commerce cannot be extended to compel individuals to buy health insurance.
- A California court also tossed out an Obamacare lawsuit seeking to block it on the grounds that the act violates individual rights and physician-patient privileges while raising taxes.
- In November 2010, Judge David Dowd of Ohio North District Court dismissed a lawsuit alleging that the Affordable Care Act is a violation of freedom of association and privacy protections granted by statutory laws. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the law did not follow due process.
Appeals Court Decisions on Obamacare Lawsuits
- D.C. Circuit and Health Care Lawsuit
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled supporting constitutional of the Affordable Care Act on November 8, 2011. Two of the three judges observed that the act was well within the constitutional power of the Congress and not against the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court also pointed out "the right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute, and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems, no matter how local—or seemingly passive—their individual origins."
- Fourth Circuit Court and Obamacare Lawsuit
In September 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court verdict striking down the individual mandate part in the Affordability Care Act in Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius lawsuit (December 2010). The court observed that Virginia’s challenge to the health care law lacked standing.
In the Liberty University appeal lawsuit, the court supported the district court ruling upholding the health care act. It held that the federal Anti-Injunction Act bars individuals to approach federal courts against assessment or collection of the penalty by the Internal Revenue Service for non-purchasing of health insurance. However, the individuals are free to bring an action before the courts in the event of refusal by the IRS to refund the assessment. This was the first judgment accepting the mandate penalty as a tax.
- Eleventh Circuit and Obamacare Lawsuit
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the decision by Florida north federal judge Roger Vinson (December 2010), striking down the individual mandate clause. However, the court overruled Vinson’s February 2011 ruling on severance of the clause. The bench in a two-to-one majority observed that the Congress had exceeded its constitutional powers by adopting the individual mandate clause.
The verdict partially rejected claims by the states on the ground that the Congress has the right since the beginning to alter or expand the Medicaid program and the federal administration must bear all costs associated with it. The states are exempted from raising revenue through taxes and funding their own health care programs if they do not agree with the federal government changes.
- Sixth Circuit and Obamacare Lawsuit
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of the health care act. Judge Jeffrey Sutton and Judge Boyce Martin Jr. upheld the validity of the act while announcing his decision in Thomas More Law Center v. Obama lawsuit. The court ruled that the Congress's Commerce Clause powers allow it the authority to include the individual mandate clause in the Affordability Care Act.
The split verdict between the Sixth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit led the plaintiffs and defendants to approach the U.S. Supreme Court that delivered its landmark judgment on June 28, 2012.
Other Important Health Care Lawsuits
There are as many as 23 lawsuits filed in U.S. courts against the health care act. In May 2012, more than 40 Catholic hospitals and institutions, including Franciscan University of Steubenville, the New York Archdiocese, and Notre Dame, filed 12 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate in the federal health care act. According to the plaintiffs, the HHS mandate requiring contraceptive coverage is an attack on their moral convictions and right to practice religion. The Obama administration and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary for Health and Human Services, have been named defendants. Earlier, in March 2012, two Protestant Church-affiliated schools had filed a similar lawsuit, alleging violation of religious liberty.
Judge Keith Starrett of Hattiesburg Division, Mississippi South Federal Court, has set the bench trial date for a lawsuit challenging the constitutional validity of the health care act for October. The Obamacare lawsuit was originally filed by Governor Phil Bryant and 10 other plaintiffs from the state. A number of lawsuits filed in Arizona, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Missouri, Nevada, Hampshire, Middle District of North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas between March and August 2010 are awaiting court ruling.