FACTBOX-Lawsuits challenging U.S. healthcare reform

Fri Jan 28, 2011 11:12am EST

Jan 28 (Reuters) - State governments have launched lawsuits throughout the United States challenging the constitutionality of requirements under the healthcare reform law championed by President Barack Obama.

A decision in one of the suits, brought by more than half of the states, is expected soon.

The challenges mostly revolve around a requirement that individuals buy health insurance, which the federal government considers critical.

Most legal scholars expect one of the suits to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Individuals, advocacy groups and hospitals have also sued.

Here are details about the current state of the legal challenges to the law:

RULINGS SO FAR

* A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday agreed to expedite consideration of challenges to a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson that the federal government could not compel a person to buy health insurance. The U.S. government has appealed and, in a twist, so has the state of Virginia, which filed the suit. The state said the judge erred by not throwing out the entire law after invalidating the individual mandate. Hudson also said the penalty charged for not having health insurance is not a tax, shooting down the federal government's argument that it is empowered to levy taxes. Virginia's governor is pressing to expedite the suit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

* A U.S. District Court in New Jersey dismissed on Dec. 9 a lawsuit filed by a cardiologist, a patient and a physicians' advocacy organization that had alleged the law violates the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, which allows the federal government to regulate commerce among the states, and also violated the Fifth Amendment.

* On Nov. 30, a federal judge ruled the individual mandate and a requirement some employers buy coverage for employees was legal under the Commerce Clause in a lawsuit filed by Liberty University, a college founded by the conservative evangelical leader Jerry Falwell.

* In October, another federal judge partly dismissed a suit filed in Michigan by the Thomas More Law Center, ruling Congress had the authority to enact the law under the Commerce Clause.

* A California court dismissed a lawsuit, now under appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court, that said the healthcare law violates individual rights, increases taxes and violates physician-patient privileges, along with violating the Commerce Clause.

* In November, U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd partially denied and partially granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by U.S. Citizen's Association in Ohio. While he dismissed arguments that the law violates freedom of association, due process and privacy protections, Dowd is considering arguments that the law exceeds federal authority granted by the Commerce Clause.

PENDING CASES

* At least 24 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts by states and private parties.

* More than half of all U.S. states are challenging the law in court. Oral arguments on a motion for summary judgment took place in a lawsuit led by Florida in December, and a decision is expected soon. The states say the Commerce Clause cannot be used to compel a person to buy something and that the law threatens state sovereignty. States with newly elected Republican governors and attorneys general have joined the challenge, bringing the number of states suing to 26. Oklahoma recently said it will file a separate suit.

WHAT IS AT ISSUE?

* States like Virginia have passed, or are considering, legislation declaring the healthcare law cannot be enforced in their states. State legislators in Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming have introduced bills that establish penalties, including fines and jail time, for any agent seeking to enforce the healthcare law within their states' borders.

* The states' main concern is that the law permits the federal government to force people to buy things, in this case requiring that all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a penalty under the "individual mandate." The federal government counters that everyone will inevitably pay for healthcare, whether through insurance or during an emergency, and that without the individual mandate, premiums will rise.

* If the courts decide the individual mandate is unconstitutional, it is unclear if the mandate can be cut away from the law while leaving the other requirements intact. The states say that without the individual mandate the law is rendered toothless.

* Parts of the U.S. Constitution that have come into play are the Commerce Clause, the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal power supreme to states' power, and the 10th Amendment, which leaves to states all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government.

* Some of the suits also focus on whether abortions are funded with taxpayer dollars under the law.

* When Obama lobbied for the bill, he said there would not be a new tax associated with the individual mandate requiring coverage. The penalty for not having health insurance, though, is collected through tax filings and the federal government argues the fine is indeed a tax it is empowered to levy. States say the U.S. government does not have the authority to charge the fine and point to the discrepancy between Obama's statements and the U.S. government's arguments. Sources: Court documents, Pacific Legal Foundation (Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Eric Beech)

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