Ruling validates fight over health law, Suthers says

Only the U.S. Supreme Court can resolve the constitutionality of the new federal health care law, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said after a fourth lower-court ruling on the much-debated new law.

Calling it “a victory for federalism,” Suthers said the ruling, combined with others, “all but assures that this critical constitutional question will eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee, ruled in a case that Colorado joined soon after Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the health care law, which includes a requirement that citizens purchase health care insurance or face fines.

The ruling is the fourth to be handed down by federal judges on the new law. Two have declared it constitutional, and two, including Vincent on Monday, have ruled the law unconstitutional.

Suthers, who was criticized by supporters of the measure and by his opponent in his bid for re-election last year, said the ruling was a vindication of his position.

“This ruling also rebuts the contention among critics of the lawsuit that this question is somehow frivolous or without merit,” Suthers said in a statement. “To the contrary, this ruling underlines that this case confronts a significant constitutional question that could reshape how the federal government interacts with its citizens and the states on a wide variety of issues.”

Dr. Michael Pramenko, a Grand Junction physician and president of the Colorado Medical Society, said the ruling establishes not just a legal question, but a more significant policy issue.

“You can make a great argument either way,” on the individual mandate, Pramenko said.

But a Supreme Court ruling that the new law is unconstitutional would make it impossible to require that insurers cover pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular parts of the law, Pramenko said.

To cover pre-existing conditions without a mandate that individuals purchase coverage, “You’re going to have to bring back the public option,” Pramenko said.

As much as conservatives might welcome the finding that the new law is unconstitutional, liberals might do the same because it could open up the possibility of a single-payer health care system, Pramenko said.

“There is a policy reason” for the way the law was structured, Pramenko said. “It was not about making it a socialized system.”

The National Federation of Independent Business was one of the plaintiffs, which also included governors and attorneys general from 26 states, and the Colorado chapter lauded the ruling.

The federation joined the case “to protect the rights of small-business owners to own, operate and grow their businesses free from unnecessary government intervention,” Colorado State Director Tony Gagliardi said. “The individual mandate, which forces citizens to purchase government-approved health insurance, undermines this core principle and gives the federal government entirely too much power.”

Families USA, a national organization that supports the new law, said the decision would have “devastating consequences,” including the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits on coverage and higher costs for small businesses.

Vinson’s “well-reasoned order clearly lays out why the individual health insurance mandate included in the president’s health care overhaul law far exceeds the bounds of the federal government’s enumerated powers,” Suthers said in his statement.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., remained focused on economic issues, “while the courts assess the challenged provisions in the new health care law,” Bennet’s office said in a statement.

Vinson took note of the political issues surrounding the case in his decision, commenting in a footnote to his decision that President Obama, while a senator in 2008 was opposed to the individual mandate “stating that ‘if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.’ ”


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