Mangled mandate will add to political battles

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Florida on Monday issued the most detailed rejection of the individual mandate to buy health insurance that was part of the health care reform law passed last year. Because the mandate is integral to the overall law, he determined the entire law doesn’t pass constitutional muster.

But Vinson’s ruling is not the final word on the health care law. Because there are now two federal court rulings that upheld the law and two that rejected all or part of it — and because of the political nature of the dispute and its impact on all Americans — the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly decide the case.

But even a Supreme Court ruling is unlikely to be the denouement of this issue. Several writers speculated this week that if the Supreme Court were to overturn the law in the fall of 2012 — the earliest it is likely to rule on it — the decision could strengthen the hands of President Barack Obama and Democrats running for Congress. And that could lead Democrats to push for a single-payer government-run health care system in 2013 — one that avoids the constitutional problems of this law.

Of course, the opposite also could occur. Supreme Court rejection of the health care law could boost Republicans’ election opportunities, especially if they have put forth reasoned proposals to substitute for the 2010 law or to amend significant portions of it.

Few people appear willing to simply return to the unsustainable health care system in effect prior to the 2010 law.

Vinson’s ruling in a case that involves 26 states, including Colorado, raises serious questions about the sweep of the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution. But it is also one more engagement in the ongoing battle over health care. As the November elections showed, that battle didn’t end with passage of last year’s health care law. It won’t end with Vinson’s ruling. The dispute likely will be part of our political and legal landscapes for years to come.


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