Govt. Argues for Dismissal of VA Health Reform Suit

May 25, 2010 ( – The Obama administration has argued in court papers filed in the state of Virginia’s health care reform law challenge that Virginia officials had no legal standing to file their government lawsuit.

Lawyers for Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, who is named as defendant in the Virginia challenge, contended that the health reform law’s individual coverage mandate only targets individual citizens. Virginia, as a state, would not be directly impacted, the government attorneys wrote.

The Virginia suit should be dismissed, the administration attorneys argued.

The government response came in the suit filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in U.S. District Court in Richmond shortly after the reform law was enacted, arguing that the requirement that people buy health coverage or pay a fee is unconstitutional.  The government lawyers urged the court to reject the state officials’ argument that the state has the right to sue to defend a state law exempting residents from the federal law’s health coverage mandate.

“The Commonwealth asserts it has standing to vindicate a sovereign interest in its new statute purporting to exempt Virginians from any federal requirement to purchase health insurance,” the government lawyers wrote. “A state cannot, however, manufacture its own standing to challenge a federal law by the simple expedient of passing a statute purporting to nullify it. Otherwise, a state could import almost any political or policy dispute into federal court by enacting its side ofthe argument into state law.”

Issues of legal standing aside, the government lawyers contended, the state’s challenge should still fail because Congress and the President acted well within their constitutional authority.

“Congress understood that virtually everyone at some point will need medical services, which cost money. The (law) merely regulates economic decisions on how to pay for those services – whether to pay in advance through insurance or attempt to do so later out of pocket – decisions that substantially affect the vast, interstate health care market,” the government brief stated.

The government legal brief is available here. 

In papers filed in a separate challenge to the health law in Michigan, the administration asserted that efforts to rein in health care spending were legitimate exercises of the federal government’s authority (see Government Responds to Health Care Reform Lawsuit).

The National Federation of Independent Business also recently joined a health reform law challenge filed in federal court in North Florida along with representatives of 20 states (see Business Group Joins HCR Challenge).