Federal Appeals Court Rules Against PPACA’s Individual Mandate


Since the enactment in 2010 of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans must carry health insurance or face a tax penalty there has been controversy over the constitutionality of the mandate.  When the White House passed the law the administration argued that the legislative branch has the ability to regulate interstate commerce, including the health care industry, according to the Constitution.  Last Friday a divided three-judge panel of the federal appeals court of Atlanta ruled that Congress overstepped its authority when they passed this mandate.

There are constitutional issues raised by compelling individuals to purchase health insurance from private companies.  Proponents have argued that it is similar to the requirement for auto insurance.  There are differences, however, in that only those who wish to drive must have auto insurance.  You can avoid having to purchase auto insurance by choosing not to drive.  There is no way to avoid having to purchase health insurance under PPACA’s mandate short of being unhealthy to the point of death.  Among other differences is that this was proposed as an unprecedented federal law whereas auto insurance laws originate at the state level, giving individuals the choice to move to a different state if they choose.  Under federal law the only choice is to leave the country. 

Attorneys general and governors in 26 states brought suit to prevent this law from taking effect.  District courts in Florida and Virginia agreed that the minimal essential coverage is unconstitutional and struck down the entire law. However, in June 2011 a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the individual mandate.  The suit made its way to the 11th Circuit Court which is considered to be one of the nation’s most conservative appeals courts.  Interestingly, however, the decisive vote was from a Democratic appointee.  In the Atlanta ruling, Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull found that lawmakers cannot require people to “enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”

Friday’s ruling proves that there is no clear answer as to whether this mandate is constitutional or not.  Cincinnati says yes, Atlanta says no.  The final answer remains to be seen and will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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