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Big day for health care reform

By Jay MacDonald ·
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Posted: 9 am ET

President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act cleared another legal hurdle Wednesday with the help of a deciding vote from an unlikely ally -- a Republican judge.

The three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 2-1 in favor of health care reform's individual mandate provision that will require all Americans to purchase a minimal amount of health insurance by 2014.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a George W. Bush appointee and former law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and Judge Boyce F. Martin, a Jimmy Carter appointee, voted to uphold the individual mandate. Judge James Graham, a Ronald Reagan appointee, cast the dissenting vote.

The decision marks the first time that a Republican-appointed federal judge has affirmed the legal merits of the provision, which cites a 1942 Supreme Court decision granting Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Previous challenges in U.S. district court have been decided on party lines. Democratic appointees have upheld the law in four courts; Republican appointees have declared key provisions unconstitutional in two courts.

This court challenge by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center claims that while Congress was granted the power to regulate activity, it has no such constitutional mandate to regulate inactivity, such as failing to purchase health insurance. The center claims such a mandate would place an undue financial burden on its plaintiffs.

But the court upheld the right of Congress to regulate the market of self-insurance for health care, in which Americans try to get by without paying for health insurance. This market directly affects interstate commerce by effectively shifting the costs of the uninsured onto to those who have health insurance.

The government argued successfully that the individual mandate was necessary to keep the costs of health care reform from unfairly falling on the insured and providers.

"Congress had a rational basis for concluding that the minimum coverage provision is essential to the Affordable Care Act's larger reforms to the national markets in health care delivery and health insurance," Judge Martin wrote for the majority.

More than two dozen states have filed legal actions challenging health care reform. The fate of the ACA will likely rest with the Supreme Court.

What significance would you place on this latest ruling, the first by a federal appeals court?

And did it leave you celebrating or fuming?

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