By Mike Lillis - 10/07/10 09:25 PM EDT
A provision of the new health reform law requiring individuals to buy health insurance does not violate the Constitution, a federal judge in Michigan ruled Thursday.
The conservative Thomas More Law Center and four individuals had sued the White House over the mandate, arguing that it violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.
"The minimum coverage provision of the Health Care Reform Act contains two provisions aimed at the same goal," Steeh wrote. "Congress intended to increase the number of insureds and decrease the cost of health insurance by requiring individuals to maintain minimum essential coverage or face a penalty for failing to do so.
"Because the 'penalty' is incidental to these purposes, plaintiffs’ challenge to the constitutionality of the penalty as an improperly apportioned direct tax is without merit."
Steeh also notes that, without the individual mandate — and because the new law bans insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions — consumers would have every incentive to wait until they get sick to buy coverage.
"In turn, this would aggravate current problems with cost-shifting and lead to even higher premiums," Steeh wrote. "The prospect of driving the insurance market into extinction led Congress to find that the minimum coverage provision was essential to the larger regulatory scheme of the Act."
The Department of Justice was quick to issue a statement applauding the decision.
"This ruling marks the first time a court has considered the merits of any challenge to this law and we welcome the court's decision upholding the health care reform statute as constitutional," DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in an email. "The court found that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable means for Congress to take in reforming our health care system. The department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation."
At least two additional suits challenging the constitutionality of the insurance mandate — one in Virginia and the other in Florida — are still pending.