A federal district court in Florida will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the new health-care legislation Thursday. Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Corbett and 18 other states have signed on to the suit, which argues that a federal mandate requiring everyone to be insured is unconstitutional.
On Monday, a judge in Virginia ruled in a similar case that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
Laval Miller-Wilson, a lawyer with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, a nonprofit that helps low-income people gain access to health care, said these decisions don’t change anything. At least not yet.
“It’s one thing to join a multistate lawsuit, it’s an entirely different thing for Governor Corbett to manage how health reform rolls out across Pennsylvania,” Miller-Wilson said. “The Affordable Care Act is still the federal law that rules the land.”
But Miller-Wilson said if the individual mandate is eventually struck down in the Supreme Court, where experts say the argument will likely end up, state insurance exchanges will be done for. They can’t survive without a bigger pool and young, healthy premium payers.
“The exchange only works when consumers are compelled to buy health insurance,” Miller-Wilson said. “It just simply won’t work unless there’s an individual mandate.”
Nate Benefield, director of policy research at the conservative think tank the Commonwealth Foundation, said repeals under discussion in Congress are likely to change policy sooner than a judicial decision, which could take years. One of the proposals under consideration calls fo striking down a rule requiring small businesses to fill out additional tax forms.
“I think there are parts of it which will change in the next few months,” Benefield said. “So state lawmakers and the governor have to kind of adjust their implementation of the health-care law.”
Benefield said many of the particulars of how Pennsylvania will implement the health-care law must wait until Gov.-elect Corbett appoints an insurance commissioner and other key positions. A Corbett representative has said that, though he believes the law to be unconstitutional, it is still his job to implement it.