Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli has won a chance to get a hearing on arguments that new federal health coverage ownership rules are unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., has ruled against Obama administration efforts to have the suit, Cuccinelli vs. Sebelius, (Civil Action Number 3:10CV188-HEH) dismissed.
Cuccinelli, a Republican, filed the suit March 23. He argued on behalf of Virginia that Section 1501 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the "minimum essential coverage provision" of the Affordable Care Act, goes beyond the outer limits of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which permits Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Cuccinelli says "the failure--or refusal--of [Virginia] citizens to elect to purchase health insurance is not 'economic activity' and therefore not subject to federal regulation under the Commerce Clause," Hudson writes in an opinion explaining his ruling.
Cuccinelli also has argued that PPACA Section 1501 conflicts with the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act.
The defendant, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, told the court it should dismiss the suit because PPACA Section 1501 is the "central ingredient of a complex health care regulatory" program based on the belief that, at some point, every individual will need medical services, and that all individuals should do what they can to help pay for those services by buying health coverage.
Sebelius also has argued that PPACA Section 1501 is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act because it relies on the authority of Congress to use its taxing and spending power under the General Welfare Act, and that the question is not yet ripe for review because PPACA Section 1501 will not take effect until 2014.
Hudson has ruled that Virginia has standing to bring a suit, that the case is ripe for review because Virginia will have to start implementing PPACA Section 1501 in the near future, and that the questions about congressional authority are reasonable ones.
"While this case raises a host of complex constitutional issues, all seem to distill to the single question of whether or not Congress has the power to regulate - and tax - a citizen's decision not to participate in interstate commerce," the judge says. "Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor any circuit court of appeals has squarely addressed this issue."
Because some authorities appear to support the arguments on both sides of the case, the court "cannot conclude at this stage that the complaint fails to state a cause of action," the judge says.
A summary judgment hearing is set to take place Oct. 18.
Cuccinelli has welcomed Hudson's ruling that the Cuccinelli complaint presents a valid claim.
"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 says in a statement. "The government cannot draft an unwilling citizen into commerce just so that it can regulate him under the Commerce Clause."
HHS says the Hudson ruling is "merely a procedural decision by the court to allow this case to move forward."
"We believe there is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010," an HHS representative says. "We are confident that the health care reform statute is constitutional and that we will ultimately prevail."
HHS argues that the PPACA minimum coverage provision is necessary and constitutional because U.S. hospitals provide life-saving care for individuals whether or not the individuals have coverage.
"Congress found that as a group, people who make the economic decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market but instead shift their health care costs to others when they seek those services if they become ill or are involved in an accident and cannot pay," the HHS spokesman says. "Congress has the authority under the Commerce Clause to address that cost-shifting burdening the interstate market for health care."