Reform law opponent files brief in appeals court

A federal court in Michigan that upheld the healthcare reform law’s individual mandate in October wrongly interpreted the Constitution’s commerce clause, plaintiffs said in an appellate court brief filed Wednesday afternoon.

The Thomas More Law Center challenged the constitutionality of the reform law’s requirement that individuals purchase insurance at the risk of penalty starting in 2014. In October, U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh, a former Clinton appointee, became the first judge to uphold the individual mandate.

Thomas More’s brief, filed in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals two days after a federal judge in Virginia ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional in a separate lawsuit, said Steeh extended the reach of the commerce clause by allowing Congress to regulate an individual’s decision not to purchase health insurance. The Obama administration successfully argued in Michigan that the decision not to purchase health insurance is an active choice that can be regulated because it affects others in the insurance market.

“The court erred in accepting Defendants’ argument that by not acting — that is, merely ‘being’ — Plaintiffs have effectively made a ‘choice,’ and this mental decision-making is akin to ‘acting,’ which someday will, but does not now, affect the economy,” the brief said.

Thomas More also argued that the reform law’s tax on individuals for not purchasing health insurance is actually a penalty that Congress does not have the power to institute.  

If accepted, Thomas More’s case would be the first reform law challenge to reach the federal appellate court level. The Obama administration said Tuesday that it will appeal the Monday decision in Virginia that ruled against the individual mandate.

Meanwhile, oral arguments begin in Florida Thursday on a 21-state lawsuit that also challenges the individual mandate, as well as the reform law’s expansion of Medicaid. Both the Virginia and Florida cases are expected to wind up in the Supreme Court.