In Michigan, federal Judge George Caram Steeh has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.
The ruling, the first so far on the ACA, was the result of a suit brought by the Thomas More Center, a religious conservative law center, seeking a preliminary injunction on the grounds that Congress has no constitutional authority to require individuals to purchase a commercial product. This refers to the part of the ACA that mandates almost all Americans to buy health insurance or face a federal fine.
The plaintiffs, the Thomas More Center and two individuals, stated that the decision not to purchase insurance is a decision not to act, and therefore a right guaranteed by the Constitution, not a matter of interstate commerce. In his decision, Judge Steeh was very clear. The healthcare market is unlike other markets in that virtually everyone will need health services at some point. The decision not to purchase health insurance is therefore an economic decision to pay for these services later out of pocket rather than in advance through insurance, and can impact healthcare providers as well as those who do purchase insurance by shifting the cost onto them. This puts it well within Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause.
There are somewhere between 15 and 20 other lawsuits pending challenging the ACA. Several suits have been refused a hearing on technicalities such as the plaintiffs’ lack of standing. This is the first actual ruling on a case, and is a victory for the Obama administration.
When the Republicans were not able to block the bill from becoming law, they announced a strategy of running against the new law in this year’s election. A series of lawsuits was part of the campaign against it, as are radical right-wing candidates who have won in many primaries around the country. In Arizona, where I live, our Republican candidates are routinely calling the ACA “Obamacare.” There is also a proposition on the ballot proposing an amendment to the State Constitution banning the requirement to buy insurance, insisting on the individual right to choose to pay for health care as one wishes. It is unclear whether passage of this proposition would then be challenged.
On the other hand, a number of parts of the law have already taken effect, including the Patient’s Bill of Rights, which limits the powers of insurance companies to refuse to cover children with pre-existing medical conditions, or to terminate a patients’ insurance when they become sick. Parents can now keep young adult children on their policies until they are 26. And a high risk pool has been established which allows people who have been denied coverage to buy insurance. These are popular provisions, and as more people use them, the law is becoming more popular. As more people find the ACA working for them, the protests may die down.
National Partnership for Women and Families