VA Judge Rules Against ACA Individual Responsibility Provision

Today, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson became the first federal judge to find a provision of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.  If you’re keeping a scorecard, it is now 2 to 1 in favor of the ACA.  Two other federal judges have upheld the law.   This certainly won’t be the last scrimmage before the fate of the Affordable Care Act is ultimately determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.  While several other lawsuits have been dismissed, others are pending, including one filed by 20 other states in Florida. (Oral arguments are expected to start Thursday in the Florida lawsuit.)

The Virginia lawsuit was filed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican, in defense of a new state law that prohibits the government from forcing state residents to buy health insurance.  The federal government defended the ACA individual responsibility provision stating that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives the government the power to require individuals to buy health insurance or face a penalty. 

“The bill will continue to have its day in court,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. “We are confident that the Affordable Care Act will be upheld.”

Gibbs also stressed the importance of the individual responsibility provision to achieve insurance industry reform such as ending discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.

The legal challenge claimed that the individual responsibility requirement – the requirement that all Americans carry a minimum level insurance by 2014 – exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce because it penalizes economic “inactivity.”    Stephanie Cutter pointed out on the White House blog that individuals who choose to go without health insurance are “actively engaged” in economic decision-making. She wrote:

“Every year millions of those who have chosen to go without health insurance actively seek medical care, which is evident in the billions of dollars spent on uncompensated care every year. People who make an economic decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market, but instead shift their costs to others when they become ill or are involved in an accident and cannot pay. Those costs – $43 billion in 2008 alone – are borne by doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, taxpayers and small businesses throughout the nation. This cost-shift added on average $1,000 to family premiums in 2009 and roughly $410 to an individual premium.”

In a statement released following the ruling, Ron Pollock of Families USA said: “It is our expectation that, after the many lawsuits run their course through the appeals process, the Affordable Care Act will be upheld in its entirety.  As a result, our nation will move much closer to the achievement of high-quality, affordable health coverage and care for all Americans.”

For more information on legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, visit Health Reform GPS.


Cathy Hope
Cathy Hope is the Communications Director at the Center for Children and Families