Our view: Fast track to high court

Let's have a swift decision on insurance and Constitution

February 2, 2011 

Democrats and Republicans are at fierce odds over the health care bill, but they should agree with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson's call for the Supreme Court to decide whether the provision requiring purchase of health insurance is constitutional -- sooner than later.

Let's have a decision that counts. So far we have dueling rulings that don't settle the issue.

Federal judges in Michigan and Virginia have ruled that mandatory purchase -- which insurance companies say is necessary to bankroll other provisions of the health care act passed last March -- is constitutional.

Another federal judge in Virginia and one in Florida have ruled that mandatory purchase is unconstitutional -- and the Florida judge, Roger Vinson, found that his ruling invalidated the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. His Virginia colleague didn't go that far.

If you're scoring at home, it's 2-2. That doesn't count cases entirely or partially dismissed.

Twenty-six states have sued the federal government over the mandatory purchase provision. Alaska is among them. Gov. Sean Parnell lauded the Florida decision and has refused to use federal money to prepare an insurance pool from which uninsured Alaskans could make their purchases. That decision seems more political than practical. If the provision passes constitutional muster, it would take effect in 2014. Even if you're opposed, it makes more sense to prepare for the possibility that the law will take effect as is.

There's a fair constitutional question here -- can the federal government use the force of law to require Americans to buy insurance from private companies?

So far, federal judges don't agree on the answer.

Neither do the American people.

The political division is bright-line clear. The 26 states arrayed against the health care provision all have either Republican governors or attorneys general. Some would argue that division extends to the courts. The two judges who have upheld the provision are Democratic appointees. The two who have struck it down are Republican appointees. Wednesday's vote to deny an up-or-down roll call on repeal in the Senate failed along strict party lines.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, said he'll sponsor a resolution asking the Supreme Court to rule swiftly on the matter. Separation of powers limits congressional direction to the courts, but this is sound advice. Rather than a scattering of suits, a running score on the district and appellate levels, and drawn-out political spin, let's cut to the chase if there's a way to do so. This issue is bound for the Supreme Court. It's in everyone's interests to resolve it there soon.

BOTTOM LINE: Health insurance provision constitutional? Let the Supreme Court rule.

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