A federal Appeals Court in Atlanta, Ga., ruled on Aug. 12 that the individual mandate requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional.
In a 2-1 decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the rest of the health reform law was constitutional if the mandate was removed. Health policy experts generally agree the individual mandate, slated to go into effect in 2014, is a linchpin of the health reform law.
Earlier this year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals of Cincinnati ruled the individual mandate was constitutional. The case is expected to go before the U.S. Supreme Court sometime in the next session, which begins in the fall.
The Obama administration defended the mandate and expressed confidence that ultimately it would be upheld as constitutional.
"Those who claim this provision exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce are incorrect," Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president and deputy senior advisor, said in a blog following the ruling. "Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are making an economic decision that affects all of us--when people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, those with insurance and taxpayers are often left to pick up the tab."
She noted that only those who are able to pay for health insurance will be required to obtain it and that the Congressional Budget Office estimated only 1 percent of Americans would pay a tax penalty for not having health insurance in 2016.
Health reform opponents hailed the ruling. The American Center for Law and Justice said the decision was "a critical step forward in undoing Obamacare."
"The individual mandate, which forces Americans to purchase health insurance, exceeds the authority of the Commerce Clause," the group said in a statement. "We're delighted that the appeals court recognized that fact. While the appeals court did not declare the entire law unconstitutional, by striking the individual mandate, the entire law is clearly in jeopardy."