The U.S. Justice Department, in its first defense of sweeping federal health care reform, argues in court papers that the legislation is constitutional, in part because it addresses a national problem.
Responding to a suit filed in Michigan by a conservative public interest group, U.S. Justice Department officials said in a 46-page brief that Congress has the authority to act on a national problem, and with that power, Congress may set minimum coverage requirements.
“Congress engaged in comprehensive regulation of the vast, national health care market, including regulation of the way in which health care services are paid for,” according to the filing, which adds, that Congress was “recognizing that the pervasive ills in the health care system cannot be cured state by state” so it adopted “wide-ranging national solutions.”
The federal government has a “long recognized interest” in the regulation of interstate commerce, including health insurance. It also must address the problems associated with cost-shifting, citing $43 billion in uncompensated care for the uninsured in 2008, according to the filing.
Federal lawyers also say in the filing that the Thomas More Law Center’s suit was filed prematurely since the law, passed in March, has not harmed anyone.
“They bring this suit four years before the provision they challenge takes effect, demonstrate no current injury, and merely speculate whether the law will harm them once it is in force,” according to the Justice Department’s filing. “Enjoining it would thwart this reform and reignite the crisis that the elected branches of government acted to forestall.”
The Democrat-led Congress and President Barack Obama passed the law after a year of heated discussion and debate, obstensibly over how to provide coverage to the estimated 44 million people who lack health insurance.
Since its passage, a number of suits have been filed. In most of the suits, plaintiffs, including attorneys general and two states, Florida and Virginia, say the mandates requiring individuals to obtain health insurance or pay a fine are unconstitutional, and as many as 31 other states, according to the Washington Post, are weighing legal challenges. In Missouri, the legislature has approved a referendum, to be held in this summer, when state residents will vote on whether to abide by the mandates included in the law.
In Michigan, the Thomas More Law Center sought an injunction blocking the government from implementing the law, whose provisions are already taking effect. The biggest changes come in 2014, when the individual coverage mandate takes hold.
Insurance companies and other advocates of the reform law say the individual mandate is vital to ensure that people don’t jump into coverage only when they are sick, thus depleting funds, which are offset by premiums paid by healthy people.
In its suit, filed shortly after the passage of the law, the Thomas More Law Center said requiring most Americans to buy health insurance or pay the fine exceeds Congress’ power and constitutes an unconstitutional tax. The group also said that because federal tax dollars could be used to fund abortions that the law violates members’ constitutional rights.
U.S. lawyers said in court papers that suits filed to halt the federal government from collecting taxes are illegal and that law provides the opportunity for people to qualify for exemptions.