Health care reform suffered a legal setback this week when a federal judge in Virginia sided with state opponents who claim that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance beginning in 2014 is unconstitutional.
In contradicting two prior opinions, Federal District Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the keystone provision of health care reform exceeds the powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause and opens the floodgates to an unprecedented expansion of federal authority.
Despite voiding the individual mandate, Hudson denied a plaintiff motion to suspend implementation of the act pending appeal, thereby allowing health care reform to roll on.
Hudson's ruling was a welcome win for Republican and Tea Party forces in Congress who have vowed to "repeal and replace" the historic overhaul of the health insurance industry. All eyes quickly turned to Florida yesterday, where District Judge Roger Vinson began hearing similar objections in a 20-state lawsuit.
To date, legal rulings on the act have split along party lines, with two Democrat-appointed judges backing the act and Hudson, an appointee of George W. Bush, the lone dissenting voice thus far. Vinson, a Reagan appointee, has previously signaled he may side with the states on some issues.
While political pundits and legal scholars will likely pay for their beach houses by parsing the greater implications of every twist and turn of this rocky road to Obamacare, my sense is that this protracted legal battle will ultimately amount to a not-very-entertaining Punch & Judy show staged for the benefit of the easily led and those who elect them.
As Wendell Potter, former PR chief with health giant Cigna, recently shared with me, the individual mandate is virtually a done deal because the very forces that have railed the loudest against health care reform are the very guys who want it: big health insurance.
I tend to agree with Wendell, in part because the act delivers the greatest windfall of new policyholders that big health insurance has ever seen, and in part because Potter doesn't have a dog in this hunt.
Oh, there will be lots of piñata bashing ahead, plenty of posturing for the 2012 elections and bellicose belly-bumping amongst the Balkan states. But in the end, 32 million Americans who couldn't afford it otherwise will have health insurance.
That's well worth the bumpy road ahead.
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