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Appeals court ruling gives Obama a health care victory

Coverage mandate is constitutional, judges decide 2-1

By Dan Sewell
Associated Press / June 30, 2011

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CINCINNATI — In the first ruling by a federal appeals court on President Obama’s health care overhaul, a panel in Cincinnati handed the administration a victory yesterday by agreeing that the government can require a minimum amount of insurance for Americans.

A Republican-appointed judge joined with a Democratic appointee for the 2-1 majority in another milestone for Obama’s hotly debated signature domestic initiative — the first time a Republican federal court appointee has affirmed the merits of the law.

The White House and Justice Department hailed the panel’s affirmation of an earlier ruling by a federal court in Michigan; opponents of the law said challenges will continue to the US Supreme Court.

At issue is a conservative law center’s lawsuit arguing on behalf of plaintiffs that potentially requiring them to buy insurance or face penalties could subject them to financial hardship. The suit warns that the law is too broad and could lead to more federal mandates.

The Thomas More Law Center, in Ann Arbor, Mich., argued before the panel that the law was unconstitutional and that Congress overstepped its powers.

The government countered the measure was needed for the overall goal of reducing health care costs and reforms such as protecting people with preexisting conditions. It said the coverage mandate will help keep the costs of changes from being shifted to households and providers.

White House adviser Stephanie Cutter called the ruling another victory for millions of Americans and small businesses benefiting from the overhaul.

“At the end of the day, we are confident the constitutionality of these landmark reforms will be upheld,’’ she said in a statement.

The law center predicted its case would have a good shot on appeal.

“Clearly, our case won’t resolve all the issues, because we don’t raise the state rights issue, but we are the only one that is currently ripe for Supreme Court review that raises the challenge on behalf of an individual,’’ said David Yerushalmi, an attorney for the law center.

The three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit delivered a lengthy opinion with disagreement on some issues, moving unusually quickly in delivering its decision, less than a month after hearing oral arguments.

“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 Boyce F. Martin, appointed by President Carter, wrote for the majority.

A President George W. Bush appointee concurred; a President Reagan appointee who is a US district judge in Columbus, Ohio, sitting on the panel disagreed. Judges are selected for panels through random draw.