U.S. Judge Puts Healthcare Law Ruling On Hold

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imageSenior Federal District Judge Roger Vinson has put on hold his ruling that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional pending appeal. The move enables the White House to continue implementing reforms aimed at lowering spiraling healthcare costs. At the same time, however, Vinson ordered the Obama administration to seek an expedited appellate review of a ruling he handed down on January 31, in favor of arguments by 26 states that requiring Americans to buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty was unconstitutional.

The administration, which must comply with Vinson’s order by the end of this week, has previously indicated it would appeal the Florida judge's ruling and continue to implement the law, whose includes provisions permit young adults to remain on their parents' healthcare insurance and prevents insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Vinson and a federal judge in Virginia have ruled against the law, but judges in several other states have dismissed challenges.

Vinson, whose jurisdiction is the Northern District of Florida, is alone in having ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down, noted in his order last Thursday that the highly politicized case is expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. "It is very important to everyone in this country that this case moves forward as soon as practically possible," he writes. He was prompted to issue the order by a request filed by the Department of Justice on February 17. In that court filing, the government said the "sweeping nature" of Vinson's judgment that the healthcare overhaul was unconstitutional posed a risk of "serious harm to many Americans" who are already benefiting from provisions of the new law. Further, it warned that such a judgment could impede efforts to combat fraud and waste in Medicare and Medicaid and "impose staggering administrative burdens" on the government and its fiscal intermediaries, as they would be forced to revamp a system that pays about 100 million Medicare claims processed each month.

"The court's declaratory judgment potentially implicates hundreds of provisions of the Act,” the court filing reads. “If it were interpreted to apply to programs currently in effect, duties currently in force, taxes currently being collected, and tax credits that may be owed at this time or in the near future, would create substantial uncertainty.”