A federal judge in Florida ruled that some parts of a lawsuit challenging the new health care law need to be heard and should proceed to trial.
The case was brought by attorneys general in 20 states who argue it's unconstitutional to require individuals to have health coverage and to make states pay higher Medicaid costs.
The Justice Department had asked the court to throw out the case, arguing that the federal government has the right to regulate health care under the Commerce and General Welfare clauses of the Constitution.
In a 65-page ruling issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson said he wants to hear more arguments over whether it's constitutional to force people to buy health insurance and whether the government can require states to expand their Medicaid programs.
Vinson said, however, that only two individual plaintiffs and the National Federation of Independent Business could challenge the requirement that nearly every American have health insurance.
The state officials will be allowed to proceed with the part of the suit that argues the health law coerces states into expanding the Medicaid program for the poor. Vinson hinted, however, that the outcome is unlikely to go their way. In his ruling, he wrote, "the current status of the law provides very little support for the plaintiffs' coercion theory."
He set a hearing for Dec. 16.
Within hours of President Obama's signing the $938 billion bill into law last March, Florida Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum had filed the first lawsuit against it, charging that it was unconstitutional.
"It's about the question of forcing the state of Florida and the other states, against the sovereignty that's guaranteed under our Constitution to our states, to do things that are practically impossible to do without giving any resources or money to do it with," he said.
McCollum's lawsuit would eventually be joined by 19 other state attorneys general, all but one Republican.
Vinson's ruling comes a week after District Judge George Caram Steeh in Detroit ruled that the mandate to get insurance by 2014 and the financial penalty for skipping coverage are legal. He said Congress was trying to lower the overall cost of insurance by requiring participation.
There is also a lawsuit pending in Virginia. A federal judge there has allowed the lawsuit to continue, ruling the overhaul raises complex constitutional issues.
The lawsuits are likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
NPR's Julie Rovner and Debbie Elliott contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press