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Groups split on healthcare ruling

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By Gina Jordan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-950789.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Twenty-six states, along with a business group and two individuals, were victorious in a Pensacola courtroom this week. They collectively sued the federal government over the Health Care Reform Bill signed into law last March. The suit claims the new law infringes on citizens' rights by forcing them to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Gina Jordan has reaction to the ruling.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson issued a 78-page opinion striking down the health care law as unconstitutional. Florida took the lead in the lawsuit, which was filed last year by then Attorney General Bill McCollum. Pam Bondi took over the office in January and addressed reporters following the ruling.

"It's very complex, but it's also very simple. What it says is that this is about
liberty, it's not just about healthcare, and that the federal government cannot force us to purchase a product or a good in violation of our sovereign rights as a state."

Judge Vinson wrote that it would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the commerce clause, which allows the federal government to oversee interstate commerce.

"He goes on to say that if this mandate went through, the enumeration of powers in the constitution would have been in vain. We would have a constitution in name
only."

The Florida Public Interest Research Group is among supporters of the reform act. Health Care Policy Coordinator Richard Polangin believes the commerce clause does apply to the healthcare law, since taxpayers have to financially carry those who need medical treatment and are uninsured.

"I think we all have a responsibility to pay for our bills if we're ill, that we can't expect government or others to pay for our healthcare bills if we fall ill or get into an accident."

The National Federation of Independent Business was a plaintiff in the states' lawsuit. NFIB's Florida executive director Bill Herrle says the cost of implementing the law is being put on the backs of small businesses.

"We do want some health insurance reform. There are many elements of the health reform act that we did support: portability, transparency, pre-existing conditions. But overall, the package was a non-starter for us. It would be like buying a car because you like the cup holders."

Judge Vinson specifically disapproved of the mandate on individuals. But the 27-hundred page bill has no "severability "clause, which means any parts that are found to be unconstitutional can't be separated from the rest. Attorney General Bondi says that's why the whole law was struck down.

"We need to pass healthcare reform, this is not the way to do it, and this is
unconstitutional. And he makes it very clear that if the federal government can do this, they can do almost anything."

In January, the Republican controlled U-S House voted to repeal the healthcare law, but last Wednesday, the Democrat controlled Senate voted against repeal. Judge Vinson chose not to keep the law from going into effect while the Obama Administration appeals his ruling. But Governor Rick Scott says the state is pulling back on its preparations.

"We are not gonna spend a lot of time and money with regard to trying to get
ready to implement that until we know exactly what's gonna happen. But I hope and I believe that either it will be declared unconstitutional or it will get repealed."

Senator Bill Nelson has called on the U-S Supreme Court to act immediately and make a quick decision. More lawsuits challenging the healthcare overhaul are pending. Two of the four rulings so far found it to be unconstitutional. The reform package is being rolled out in phases through the year 2014 and some provisions have already been enacted.