4th Circuit Overturns Lower Court Ruling on Health Care Mandate

September 8, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A U.S. appeals court ruled against the state of Virginia and others seeking to invalidate President Barack Obama’s health care law as unconstitutional.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court judge who had ruled the federal government could not compel people to buy health insurance or face paying a penalty, Reuters reports. (See Judge Strikes Down HCR Coverage Mandate) The individual mandate takes effect in 2014. 

Virginia had contended this provision conflicted with a state statute, giving it standing to challenge the federal law, but the appellate court found that Virginia did not have the right to challenge it and overturned the decision. One day after Congress passed the federal health care overhaul in March 2010, Virginia signed into law a measure aimed at protecting its residents from the federal law, but the court said that was merely a declaration and did not trump the federal government’s authority. 

According to Reuters, the court did not address Virginia’s challenge to whether the mandate was constitutional. In a separate ruling, it ordered another lawsuit against the health care law, which targeted the penalty imposed for those who do not purchase insurance, be dismissed because the penalty has yet to be imposed. 

It was the second major victory at the appellate level for the White House in a case that will likely be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2011-12 term that begins next month. 

The 4th Circuit decision follows a similar one in late June by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the individual mandate by ruling that Congress had the power to require Americans to buy health insurance. (See Court Upholds Ruling that Health Care Law is Constitutional).  

However, it contrasts with one by the 11th Circuit in August that ruled against the individual mandate requirement in a challenge brought by 26 states. (See 11th Circuit Finds Health Care Mandate Unconstitutional).  

Those conflicting decisions likely ensure the Supreme Court will have to step in to resolve the differences, Reuters said.