A federal judge on Monday found a key component of the recent sweeping health care reform law unconstitutional, setting the stage for a protracted legal struggle likely to wind up in the Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson struck down the “individual mandate” requiring most Americans to buy health insurance by 2014. The Justice Department is expected to challenge the judge’s findings in a federal appeals court.
The decision by Judge Henry Hudson is the first finding against the law passed in March. He backed the state of Virginia’s argument that the law’s requirement that Americans buy healthcare or face a fine was unconstitutional. Hudson’s opinion contradicts other court rulings finding the mandate constitutionally permissible.
“An individual’s personal decision to purchase — or decline purchase — (of) health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the U.S. Constitution,” Hudson wrote. “No specifically constitutional authority exists to mandate the purchase of health insurance.”
The judge wrote in a 42-page decision that the disputed provision was “neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution”.
But he declined to invalidate the entire law, in what correspondents say was a small victory for Barack Obama.
The healthcare industry opposed Obama’s reform but insurers, which include companies such as Aetna Inc and WellPoint Inc, favor the individual mandate as it means more customers.
Shares of health insurers rose as investors saw the ruling as evidence that the healthcare law can be adjusted in the courts without a full overhaul and the uncertainty that would accompany it.