How Much Does the Florida Health Care Ruling Matter?


So … is health care reform over now?

Going by some reactions to a Florida federal judge’s recent decision, you might think something like that. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson declared the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional based on the individual mandate requiring most Americans to buy insurance starting in 2014. But hours after the news broke, White House officials swooped in to say, Nothing to see here, folks.


In a conference call, senior administration officials pointed out that the Florida ruling stemmed from one of many state lawsuits filed immediately after the bill was signed. Fourteen of those were dismissed. Of the three other decisions that have been handed down, two judges ruled in favor of the law. A Virginia judge found the mandate to be unconstitutional, but also said that implementation of the rest of the law could proceed.

Furthermore, officials claimed, the legal arguments against the law presented in the Florida case – relying on rhetoric about the Founding Fathers and the Boston Tea Party, as well as slippery slope scenarios about the government mandating people to eat broccoli – are flippin’ strange.

"History and the facts are on our side," wrote Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president and deputy senior advisor, on the White House blog. "Similar legal challenges to major new laws — including the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act — were all filed and all failed."

Although the Obama administration, which is appealing the decision, is holding fast to their view that Judge Vinson doesn’t have a leg to stand on, the case is expected to next go to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Vinson believes his decision is sound enough to stop the health care overhaul in the 26 states named in the lawsuit.

Should the Supreme Court agree with the decision, it wouldn't stop just the individual mandate coming in 2014, but also the provisions that have already gone into effect. At risk are tax breaks to help small businesses buy health insurance for employees, young adults being allowed to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, and a new rule barring providers from dropping people who get sick.

So, no, the Florida decision doesn’t exactly cue the death knell for health care reform. But if Justice Anthony Kennedy – whose vote often serves as a tie-breaker in the split Supreme Court – agrees with Vinson, then that will definitely sound the alarm.