Health care reform got the wind knocked out of it today by a federal court judge who ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to mandate that people have health insurance, a provision that especially riled up the law's many conservative critics. It is a significant setback for the Obama administration.
Under the law, most individuals would be required to get health insurance by 2014 or face a fine. Backers of the law argued that it was needed to reduce the number of people without insurance. Critics argued that it was ineffective.The provision, a key part of the 2,700-page law passed on Christmas Eve, can't be supported by the Constitution's authority to regulate Interstate Commerce, according to a 42-page ruling by Judge Henry E. Hudson. Conservative critics have made the same arguments as Hudson, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
"It would be virtually impossible within the present record to determine whether Congress would have passed this bill, encompassing a wide variety of topics related and unrelated to health care, without Section 1501 (which contains the mandate)," the ruling says. "Even then, the Court's conclusions would be speculative at best."
Hudson, though, did offer backers of health care reform some hope. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post noted, Hudson "refused the plaintiff's request for an injunction against the legislation's continued implementation. The construction of the bill's infrastructure will continue." Moreover, he didn't rule on anything but the individual mandate which Klein argues can be restructured to make it constitutional.
Almost a year after its passage, Americans remain divided over health care reform. Obama's critics, including many newly-elected members of Congress, have vowed to repeal the law, which they have nicknamed Obama Care. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 42% of Americans say they support the law, while 41% say they oppose it. Public sentiment is little changed since an earlier poll.
One thing is certain: The Supreme Court will have the final say on the law.
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