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A federal judge has ruled that it is constitutional to force individuals to purchase health insurance, a central pillar of ObamaCare. To be clear, the decision was in response to a suit brought by the Thomas More Law Center, which is separate from the two larger suits brought by dozens of states.
U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh of the Eastern District of Michigan, a Bill Clinton appointee, argued that the federal government does indeed have the power under the Commerce Clause to impose the individual mandate to purchase health insurance.
Citing the Roosevelt-era case that extended the Commerce Clause to regulate a farmer growing wheat for his home consumption, as well as the more recent ruling against home-grown medical marijuana, Steeh argued that all the government needs to do is prove that it has a rational basis to conclude that taken in aggregate, the regulated activity affects commerce. He ruled that in this case, “the costs of caring for the uninsured who prove unable to pay are shifted to health care providers, to the insured population in the form of higher premiums, to governments, and to taxpayers. The decision whether to purchase insurance or to attempt to pay for health care out of pocket, is plainly economic. These decisions, viewed in the aggregate, have clear and direct impacts on health care providers, taxpayers, and the insured population who ultimately pay for the care provided to those who go without insurance. These are the economic effects addressed by Congress in enacting the Act and the minimum coverage provision.”
Even though ObamaCare is a novel application of the Commerce Clause because it regulates the act of not engaging in economic activity, the judge concluded that in reality the Commerce Clause power extends to all economic decisions that affect commerce. He also argued that a person can not garuntee that he or she will opt out of the health care market.
In addition, the judge ruled that the individual mandate is essential to a “broader regulatory scheme” because it’s connected to the regulation forcing insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions.
While this decision will likely generate a lot of discussion because it’s the first ruling on the merits of the constitutional challenges to ObamaCare, opponents of the law may have a lot better chance of prevailing in the two other major suits, one brought by Virginia and the other one led by Florida and involving 20 states.