Some States Cheered by Virginia Healthcare Decision

By Jon Lentz and | August 3, 2010

Nearly half of all U.S. states are fighting President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms and those that have taken the battle to court were heartened Monday by a judge’s decision to let Virginia proceed with its lawsuit against the program.

“Today’s ruling is a setback for the Department of Justice and is vindication that the states’ lawsuits have merit,” said Ryan Wiggins, spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in Tallahassee.

Florida is leading a lawsuit of 20 states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses saying the federal government cannot force people to buy health insurance.

Under the healthcare plan signed into law this spring, individuals without health insurance would have to buy that insurance starting in 2014 or face penalties.

The U.S. Justice Department argued that Virginia, which passed a state law saying citizens cannot be required to purchase health insurance, does not have standing to sue. Instead, it said, individuals who oppose the penalties should challenge them in court.

In Michigan, citizens are doing just that. Last month, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan heard a motion for a preliminary injunction from the conservative Thomas More Center and four individuals.

Once the Virginia decision was announced, the Thomas More Center made a special filing in the Michigan court calling attention to it.

“I’m hopeful that it will embolden our judge,” said the center’s lead counsel, Robert Muise. “When he sees another judge has looked at this and realized there’s some merit to these claims and these allegations, and the case should go forward– it’s not binding authority, but it’s certainly persuasive.”

The fight, though, is not confined to the courts.

Missouri will have the first ballot measure Tuesday to take on federal healthcare reform. Voters will be asked to amend state law to outlaw any compulsory participation by individuals, employers or healthcare providers in any healthcare system.

A poll of likely voters conducted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV last month pointed to likely passage of the measure as 61 percent of poll respondents said they opposed the federal healthcare law.

On Nov. 2, Oklahoma voters will vote on amending the state’s constitution to bar the federal government from requiring them to have insurance.

Arizona residents will also vote on allowing them to opt out of the healthcare system and to pay directly for services. The Arizona legislature approved the constitutional amendment in a referendum in June 2009.

Florida’s legislature passed a similar ballot measure to counter the new healthcare overhaul, but it was thrown out last week by a county judge.

In at least two other states the conservative movement known as the Tea Party has mounted campaigns to add similar referenda to the ballots.

The court battles are primarily over the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which allows the U.S. government to regulate commerce between the states. The federal government says healthcare is an activity of commerce, while the states contend that when people decide not to purchase health insurance they are not part of that activity.

One lawsuit will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts say, but they have low chances of succeeding. An article of the Constitution puts the powers of the federal government over those of the states.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Jon Lentz and Jeremy Pelofsky; additional reporting by Michael Connor in Miami and Karen Pierog in Chicago. Editing by Chris Wilson)

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