Challenge to Constitutionality of Health Care Reform Shifts to Florida

After Tuesday’s ruling in the Virginia challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the focus today shifts to a courtroom in Florida where Judge Roger Vinson will consider in a two-hour hearing claims brought by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and 19 other conservative state officials. (The Florida plaintiffs also include the National Federation of Independent Businesses and two individuals.)

The Florida case differs in a key respect from the Virginia case decided Tuesday, as well as the two cases in which the health care law has been upheld.  While those cases targeted the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision of the law that requires individuals to obtain insurance if they can afford it, the Florida case adds a claim that the law exceeds Congress’s authority under the Constitution’s spending clause.  Specifically, the Florida plaintiffs argue that the law’s expansion of Medicaid coverage is an unconstitutional form of coercion and commandeering, because it “forces” states to take allegedly expensive actions they would rather avoid.

CAC filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of state legislators from across the country demonstrating that this claim of coercion and commandeering—a claim that is based on principles of federalism—is meritless.  Medicaid is and always has been a voluntary partnership between the federal government and the States.  If States do not like the expanded Medicaid provisions in the new law, they can simply opt out of Medicaid altogether (an option that some state officials have already started to consider).  This isn’t coercion or commandeering—it’s a policy choice.  The State Legislators represented by CAC believe that the expanded Medicaid provisions in the reform law are a welcome reform, extending much-needed health care coverage to millions of low-income Americans with substantial federal support (to the tune of 100% federal support for the first few years).

The Florida plaintiffs’ challenge to expanded Medicaid coverage is simply an attempt to get the Florida court to re-write the health care reform law, keeping the parts of Medicaid these politicians like, while striking out those provisions that they don’t.  This is an effort that belongs in the political arena, not the courts.  We hope Judge Vinson rebuffs the plaintiffs’ pleas for a judicial “do-over” of the health care reform law in the guise of a constitutional claim.

Check back with Text & History for updates on the Florida case and other health care reform news and analysis.