Health reform implementation

Administration asks judge to tell the states that healthcare law isn’t optional

The Obama administration is asking a federal judge who struck down the healthcare reform law to clarify that states must still implement the overhaul as the appeals process plays out.

Some states are saying the Jan. 31 ruling relieves them from implementing the sweeping reform law because the federal judge in Florida found it to be unconstitutional.

The Obama administration, in a Thursday evening filing in a Northern Florida federal court, is asking the court to clarify that the 26 states who successfully challenged the law are still required to comply with it.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the law’s requirement for individuals to purchase insurance is unconstitutional, and therefore, the rest of the law is unconstitutional because the provision is too central to making the law function. The administration points out that the so-called individual mandate does not go into effect until 2014, while other parts of the law have already gone into effect.

“[A] contrary understanding would threaten serious harm to many Americans currently benefiting from provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are already in effect and would significantly interfere with defendants’ statutory duty to implement the Act as Congress directed,” the Justice Department wrote in its court filing.

In addition to the Florida ruling, another federal judge in Virginia ruled the law’s individual mandate unconstitutional. However, two other federal judges upheld the mandate, while more than a dozen courts have thrown out challenges on procedural grounds.

In the aftermath of the Florida ruling, a number of states have questioned whether they must implement the law. Florida returned several grants, and Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike said there is confusion regarding future implementation.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), have called on the administration to ask the Supreme Court to fast-track the appeals. However, the administration seems content to allow the normal appeals process to play out.

Even states who are challenging the reform law in court are moving forward with implementation. On Wednesday, Wisconsin accepted a $38 million grant to establish technology infrastructure to support new health insurance exchanges created by the reform law.

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