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HHS Asks Court to Drop Virginia Mandate Suit

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, May 25, 2010

The Obama administration on Monday asked a federal district court in Richmond, VA, to dismiss the state's lawsuit filed two months ago that said Congress had overreached its powers under the new healthcare reform law by requiring citizens in the 50 states to purchase healthcare insurance.

In a motion filed before the midnight deadline, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the law is within the scope of the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The healthcare reform law "merely regulates economic decisions on how to pay for those services—whether to pay in advance through insurance or attempt to do so later out of pocket—decisions that substantially affect the vast, interstate healthcare market," the motion said.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) had filed suit minutes after President Obama signed the reform legislation into law in March. Cuccinelli had said that mandating people to purchase healthcare coverage—or instead pay a fee—exceeded the federal powers limited through the Constitution's 10th Amendment.

Cuccinelli's suit is separate from the Florida suit, which includes 20 states challenging the legislation over similar grounds on the insurance mandate. And, it is also separate from a suit filed in Michigan on behalf of four uninsured individuals who did not plan to buy health insurance and claimed they would be harmed by the monetary penalty when insurance becomes mandatory in 2014.

In the motion to dismiss the suit, Sebelius said that Virginia lacks the standing to sue: "A state cannot...manufacture its own standing to challenge a federal law by the simple expedient of passing a statute purporting to nullify it. Otherwise, a state could import almost any political or policy dispute into federal court by enacting its side of the argument into state law."

The motion adds that: The "minimum coverage provision" that Virginia challenges here—i.e., the requirement that, with specified exceptions, all Americans who can afford it either maintain a minimum level of health insurance coverage or pay a penalty—is a linchpin of Congress’s reform plan.

Cuccinelli said in a statement in response to the motion that federal laws usually trump state laws. However, he said the conflict between the federal law and Virginia law gave him a duty to file suit. Virginia has until June 7 to file a response.


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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