Key Points from the Florida Ruling
By Hadley Heath
A highlight reel from yesterday’s Order in State of Florida v. Dept. of Health and Human Services:
The Individual Mandate is not a tax:
Although the Department of Justice has argued that the government has the power to tax and that the penalty for failure to purchase insurance is a tax, Judge Vinson spent more than 20 pages on tax issues and concluded that the Individual Mandate is not a tax. In Section 1501 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Congress deliberately used the word “penalty” instead of "tax," and knew how to enact a "tax" if it so desired. Vinson called this misleading use of words an Alice-in-Wonderland defense. Therefore, the mandate must be examined in light of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3), not any taxing power of Congress.
The Individual Mandate is without prior precedent:
Vinson wrote, "At this stage of the litigation, this is not even a close call.... The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent." [see p. 61 of the Order] This penalty applies to people who are inactive. Never before has the government required that all Americans purchase a specific good or service. Some have compared it to the requirement to purchase auto insurance, a comparison for which Michael Cannon at the Cato Institute has a good answer, “You can avoid the auto insurance mandate by divesting yourself of a car. The only way to avoid a health insurance mandate is by divesting yourself of a body." Vinson would agree; he wrote, “Rather, [the mandate] is based solely on citizenship and on being alive.... the plaintiffs have most definitely stated a plausible claim with respect to this cause of action." [p. 64 of the Order]
The Medicaid Expansion is a Hobson’s Choice:
Judge Vinson cited a previous Supreme Court ruling (Steward Machine Co. v. Davis) and wrote, “there is a line somewhere between mere pressure and impermissible coercion ... [that is] a question of degree, at times, perhaps, of fact." [quoting and emphasizing the language of Steward Machine]. Vinson also explained that the choice between opting in and opting out of the Medicaid expansion leaves states with no choice at all given the substantial harm they will face either way.
The Plaintiffs have standing and the case is ripe:
In the Order, Vinson said individual and association standing is satisfied because Plaintiffs face a realistic danger of direct injury. Standing was never challenged as to the states bringing the Medicaid expansion claim, but Vinson did clarify that the National Federation of Business (another one of the Plaintiffs) had standing because pleading on behalf of its members is germane to its purpose and mission. Judge Vinson found that the case is ripe to be heard because injury is impending and harm will be felt in the immediate or near future.
Therefore, a summary judgment hearing is set for December 16, and Judge Vinson will hear arguments on the individual mandate and the coercion of states as to Medicaid.