Judge who tossed healthcare law to issue prompt clarification

A federal judge who struck down the entire healthcare reform law said he will quickly consider an Obama administration request to clarify whether states must comply with it. 

Last week, the administration asked the court to clarify that the 26 states that successfully challenged the healthcare overhaul in federal court must still comply with it as the challenge works its way through the appeals process. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that law’s requirement for individuals to purchase insurance is unconstitutional, and therefore that the rest of the law is unconstitutional, because the provision is too central to making the law function.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 31 ruling from U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, some states have declared the reform law dead. Florida, the leading state in the lawsuit, returned a pair of federal grants for implementing the law, and Alaska announced it wouldn't apply for a grant to plan the law's new health insurance exchanges.

Vinson is giving the plaintiffs — the 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business — until Wednesday to respond to the administration's request, and the administration has an additional three days to respond to the plaintiffs.

In the order, Vinson seemed somewhat miffed by the administration’s request.

“Because I determined that the individual mandate could not be severed from the remainder of the [law], it was also necessary to declare the entire statute void,” he wrote. “The defendants have now, two and one-half weeks later, filed a motion to ‘clarify’ that order.”

Vinson, a President Reagan appointee, was the first federal judge to strike down the entire reform law. Another Republican-appointed judge in December only struck down the so-called individual mandate. Two Democrat-appointed judges have so far upheld the mandate, and more than a dozen cases have been thrown out on procedural grounds. 

The administration so far has seemed cool to calls for it to request the Supreme Court to fast-track legal challenges to healthcare reform. The Florida ruling will go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, while two other challenges are already at the appellate level.