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Expedite health care reform law appeal: Justice Department


WASHINGTON—The Justice Department has asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite its review of a federal judge’s decision that the health care reform law is unconstitutional.

In a filing Tuesday, the Justice Department said speedy review by the appeals court is warranted because of the far-reaching nature of a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson, who ruled the entire law is unconstitutional.

The Pensacola, Fla.-based judge ruled in January that Congress exceeded its authority under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by including a provision in the 2010 law that requires nearly all U.S. residents to enroll in a qualified health care plan or pay a fine starting in 2014.

The Justice Department proposed that it submit its appeals brief by April 18, and that opponents file their briefs by May 18.

Legal scholars say under such a schedule, the appeals court could hear oral arguments this summer.

Ultimately, the issue is expected to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Vinson’s ruling is the only one in the numerous cases challenging the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to strike down the entire law. Other courts have split on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

Aside from the individual mandate, the health care reform law requires employers, except for smaller firms, to offer coverage or pay an annual $2,000 per employee assessment—excluding the first 30 employees—starting in 2014. The law also provides health insurance premium subsidies for the lower-income uninsured, expands Medicaid, places a $2,500 annual cap on pretax contributions to flexible spending accounts and eventually imposes a federal excise tax on premiums of the costliest group plans.

Congressional budget analysts have projected that the law will result in more than 30 million uninsured U.S. residents gaining coverage.

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