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Appeals Court Holds Part of Health Care Reform Law Unconstitutional

On Friday, August 12, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta held 2-1 that the individual health insurance mandate provision found in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the comprehensive health care reform legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2010, is unconstitutional. More specifically, the court found that the individual mandate, which would require most individuals to obtain health insurance or pay a fine, exceeded the power of the U.S. Congress under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

According to the majority opinion, “this economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives.”

Although there have been a number of legal challenges to the PPACA, this one was particularly interesting to a lot of people because it was filed by governors and attorneys general of 26 states that oppose the health care reform law. The district court that initially heard the case determined that since the individual mandate couldn’t be severed from the PPACA as a whole, “the entire Act must be declared void.” The Eleventh Circuit, however, took a different stance and held that the entire law didn’t need to be struck down, only the individual mandate provision.

The Eleventh Circuit is the first appellate court to rule that any part of the PPACA is unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati recently upheld the law, and a federal appeals court in Richmond that is also set to hear a challenge to the PPACA hasn’t ruled on the issue yet.

Since the legal challenges to the health care reform law began, many analysts have speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court may eventually have to decide the issue. This appears to be an even more likely scenario now that the circuits are split on the issue.

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