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Busy Day Today for Legal Challenges To The Health Care Statute As The Sixth Circuit Issues A New Opinion And The Obama Administration Announces Proposed Shift in Policy

Posted in News and Analysis

Today has been an active day for legal challenges relating to the new health care statute.  To start things off, the Sixth Circuit earlier this morning rejected the latest constitutional challenges to the so-called individual mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance under the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148See Opinion, U.S. Citizens Ass’n, et al. v. Sebelius, et al. (6th Cir. Case Nos. 11-3327/3798) (PDF).  These latest challenges were brought by U.S. Citizens Association , a conservative non-profit organization based in Akron, Ohio, and two of its members who object to the purchase of private health insurance because they do not believe in the effectiveness of traditional medicine and because they would rather focus on preventative care that is not covered by traditional health insurance policies.  The plaintiffs claim that they have sufficient income to pay for emergency medical care if they needed it, and they would not purchase health insurance in 2014 if it wasn’t for the new federal health care law.

In 2011, plaintiffs filed suit claiming that the individual mandate violates: (1) the Commerce Clause, (2) plaintiffs’ freedom of expressive and intimate association, (3) plaintiffs’ right to liberty, and (4) plaintiffs’ right to privacy.  In an opinion written by Circuit Judge Jane B. Stranch, the Sixth Circuit panel unanimously rejected plaintiffs’ claims.  The panel first rejected plaintiff’s Commerce Clause challenge because the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark Opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (Sup. Ct. Case No. 11-393), “already passed upon the constitutionality of the individual mandate and has affirmed its validity.”  As we reported last year, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate as a valid exercise of Congress’s taxing (rather than commerce) power.

The panel also rejected plaintiffs’ remaining claims.  The panel first concluded that the individual mandate does not violate plaintiffs’ right of intimate association because plaintiffs did not show how their right to associate intimately with physicians was infringed.  Nor does it prevent plaintiffs from forging relationships with medical professionals of their choice.  Similarly, the panel held that the individual mandate does not violate plaintiffs’ right of expressive association under the First Amendment because the mandate “does not impair plaintiffs’ ability to engage in expressive conduct.”   The panel also held that the individual mandate does not implicate plaintiffs’ right to refuse unwanted medical care because plaintiffs “remain free to choose their medical providers and the medical treatments they will or will not accept.”  Finally, the panel held that the individual mandate does not violate plaintiffs’ right to privacy because it “does not actually compel plaintiffs to disclose personal medical information to insurance companies,” and plaintiffs in any event “can avoid any privacy concern altogether by simply foregoing insurance and complying with the individual mandate by making the shared responsibility payment,” which is the tax that individuals must pay if they fail to purchase a health insurance policy providing a minimum level of coverage.

Shortly after the Sixth Circuit issued its opinion this morning, the Obama administration announced a shift in federal healthcare policy providing for a broader exemption for religious-affiliated organizations who are opposed to the so-called contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  As we’ve been reporting on our blog, there currently are over 40 lawsuits making their way through the federal courts challenging the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requiring employers to cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs in their employee health care plans.  The challenges include such national business as Hobby Lobby.  The Obama Administration’s latest proposal is in response to complaints by Catholic schools and other organizations that the contraception mandate is a direct attack on religious freedoms.  The proposal will be open for public comment until April 8, 2013, when the Administration will consider whether to make it final.

Meanwhile, the legal challenges to the contraception mandate will continue.  Just a few weeks ago, a federal judge in the Sixth Circuit granted an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order in favor of a management company owned by the founder of Domino’s Pizza allowing it to delay implementation of the HHS mandate until a final decision was made in the case.  It’s very possible that the legal challenges to the contraception mandate will land at the Sixth Circuit in 2013, and we’ll be following them closely.