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Feds Move to Dismiss Health Care Lawsuit

Saying that overturning the new federal health care law would unduly expand judicial review of Congress and other government branches, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bill McCollum to exclude Florida from the national health care reform effort.

Denied an extension to fine tune their legal motion, the federal agency urged U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson to dismiss the Florida case, which contends that the health care law passed by Congress earlier this year illegally requires all citizens and legal residents to have health care coverage or pay a tax penalty.

In its motion to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, the federal government also argued against charges that the reform effort illegally requires states to expand Medicaid programs, which McCollum and others say is a direct violation of states’ rights guaranteed in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On the contrary, the agency brief argues that Congress has the power to determine how federal money appropriated for Medicaid may be spent and can give states an option of setting up their own health exchanges or having the federal government do so. Finally, the agency argued that the federal government has the right to regulate states as it regulates other employers providing health insurance to their employees.

“Plaintiffs have no standing to raise the claim, and even if they did, Supreme Court precedent establishes that regulation of economic decisions such as how to pay for medical services is valid under the Commerce and General Welfare Clauses of the Constitution,” the federal brief said.
Because much of the plan’s health care coverage comes through an expansion of Medicaid, which has survived previous court challenges, the new plan passes constitutional muster too, the feds argued. As with previous expansions of Medicaid, states that disagree can opt out. But those wishing to participate in Medicaid must accept strings attached to the federal money.

“No case – ever – has invalidated a spending condition on such a theory, for good reason,” the brief noted. “A new constitutional role of this sort would foreclosure change, either by precluding Congress from amending its own statues or requiring courts to calibrate on some novel scale the permissible scope of each amendment….”

“In short, plaintiffs call upon this court to relieve them of a difficult political choice, and in doing so, to break new legal ground and expand dramatically judicial review of laws enacted by the elected branches of government,” the filling continued,” the brief concluded.

In response Thursday, McCollum said he was not swayed by the federal arguments and doubted the court would be either.

“Nothing in the Justice Department’s motion filed last night changes the states’ view that we will prevail,” he said in a statement. “Instead, the Justice Department’s defenses clash directly with comments made by President Obama during the debate on the health care reform bill, including the President’s insistence on national television that the purchase mandate was absolutely not a tax. Yet in its motion to dismiss, the Obama Administration defends the individual mandate under Congress’ ‘taxing and spending’ power.”

Speaking with reporters after filing paperwork to official become a candidate for governor this year, McCollum said the federal arguments were “not surprising,”

“We’re going to fight them,” he said of the motion Thursday morning. “We disagree with them and we are going to win. That’s about as simple as I can put it.”

McCollum said the next step is a September hearing. He said the judge could rule by the end of the year.

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