KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Appeals Court Judges Ask ‘Skeptical’ Questions As Health Law Arguments Unfold

An Atlanta federal court of appeals heard oral arguments today on whether to reverse an earlier decision by a Florida judge to overturn the law.

Bloomberg: "Lawyers for the Obama administration asked a third federal appeals court to uphold a 2010 health-care law in what may be the final legal battle over the statute before it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. In oral arguments today, the government asked a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta to reverse a lower-court ruling that struck down President Barack Obama's health-care legislation. Similar panels in Richmond, Virginia, and Cincinnati have heard challenges to the law over the past five weeks as individual lawsuits work their way through the federal courts" (Harris and Viele Davidson, 6/8).

Los Angeles Times: "A top Obama administration lawyer defending last year's healthcare law ran into skeptical questions Wednesday from three federal judges here, who suggested they may be ready to declare all or part of the law unconstitutional. Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal faced off against former Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement in what has become the largest and broadest challenge to the healthcare law. In all, 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business joined in urging the judges to strike down the law. And in an ominous sign for the administration, the judges opened the arguments by saying they knew of no case in American history where the courts had upheld the government's power to force someone to buy a product" (Savage, 6/8).

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The judges "did not give a warm embrace to the individual mandate provision of President Barack Obama's health-care law, but they also did not tip their hands as to how they will ultimately rule" (Rankin, 6/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: "All three judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel questioned whether upholding the landmark law could open the door to Congress adopting other sweeping economic mandates. The panel is made up of two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee" (6/8).

Reuters: "Senior administration lawyer Neal Katyal argued that those who choose to go without health insurance are already making economic decisions that affect everyone. ... A Virginia appeals court heard a similar case in May, but this case is more significant because of the number of states backing it. No ruling is expected for months and legal experts expect an appeal to the Supreme Court regardless which side wins" (Bigg and Jacobs, 6/8).

The Wall Street Journal: "In three hours of testimony Wednesday, the appeals panel gave few clear indications of which way it would rule. The judges peppered the Obama administration with questions about whether requiring Americans to buy insurance or pay a fee opens the door to unprecedented government power, and could lead to mandated purchases of energy-friendly products like solar panels. ... The panel also showed some sympathy to a secondary claim in the states case: that the law's expansion of Medicaid unfairly burdened states. Judge Vinson ruled against the plaintiffs on that part of the case" (Adamy, 6/8).

Miami Herald: "They disagree on whether it's unconstitutional, but attorneys arguing both sides of the federal health care law told a three-judge panel in a federal appeals court on Wednesday that the so-called 'individual mandate' is critical to the law's core purpose. ... Judges Stanley Marcus and Frank Hull wanted to know exactly which pieces of the new law would be affected if the court determine the individual mandate was unconstitutional but the entire law was not. 'I'm not saying that's where we're going,' Hull said. 'I'm trying to understand the act'" (Zink, 6/8).

Kaiser Health News staff writer Bara Vaida discussed the day's developments with Alyson M. Plamer, a reporter who covers legal issues and was in Atlanta for the arguments (6/8). 

Also, related rom KHN: Scoreboard: Tracking Health Law Court Challenges (Vaida, updated 6/7).

C-Span has posted audio from the 11th Circuit oral arguments.

Meanwhile, outside the courthouse - 

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "More than 40 activists stood outside the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta Wednesday morning to support or decry federally mandated health insurance. ... Dozens of people opposed to the law President Barack Obama enacted last year waived posters and placards saying 'Hands Off My Health Insurance' and 'Freedom? Not if I'm Forced to Buy Insurance.' ...  But on the other side of the issue, ... Families USA executive director Ron Pollack said he believed the law would be preserved (Garner, 6/8).

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