Policy-ish

States Opposed To Insurance Mandate Prepare Lawsuits

Under the health overhaul plan that looks all but set to become federal law soon, just about everyone will have to have insurance coverage, or pay a penalty.

Most Americans would need to line up insurance, starting in 2014, or get slapped with a fine. The pain would be small at first — $95, or up to 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, for an individual. By 2016, the fine would increase to $695, or 2.5 percent of income.

Putting everyone, including young people and the healthy, into the insurance pool is one way to reduce the cost of coverage.

But, some opponents of overhaul are crying foul, saying a federal insurance mandate is unconstitutional. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who's running for governor, and a bunch of other attorneys general say they'll sue to stop the law.

At a news conference, McCollum blasted the penalty as "a tax on being alive," according to the Sun-Sentinel in Florida.

The legal battle has been brewing for a while, and NPR's David Welna took a look at the dispute in January. Wake Forest University heath law expert Mark Hall told Welna then that nearly every legal scholar he knows thinks Congress is well within its constitutional powers to impose a health insurance mandate.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says he'll sue as soon as a federal bill is signed into law. Virginia presents an interesting wrinkle. The state just enacted a law that prohibits citizens from being required to buy insurance. "The health care reform bill, with its insurance mandate, creates a conflict of laws between the federal government and Virginia," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "Normally, such conflicts are decided in favor of the federal government, but because we believe the federal law is unconstitutional, Virginia's law should prevail."

For still more on the legal argument against an individual insurance mandate, see this piece from the conservative Heritage Foundation via the Wall Street Journal.

Update: NPR's Nina Totenberg explores the legal arguments for and against federal preemption on Tuesday's Morning Edition.

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