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Obama Administration Prevails in Michigan Challenge to Health Care Law

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

October 7, 2010 -- A federal judge in Michigan on Thursday handed the Obama administration its first clear victory in the legal battles against the new health care law.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh denied a request for a preliminary injunction brought by the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., and dismissed claims the center made against the individual mandate included in the law and penalties for not complying. Steeh said that Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to enact the health care law.

This is the first judge who has dismissed a challenge to the law. But it is far from the only legal action. Suits against the law are pending in Florida, where 20 state attorneys general have joined together, and in Virginia.

The group that brought the Michigan suit is a national public interest law center with headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. It says its mission is to defend "America's Christian heritage and moral values." The center filed the suit on March 23 on its own behalf and that of four uninsured citizens.

Steeh wrote that Congress did not exceed its power in requiring that every American have insurance. "The minimum coverage provision, which addresses economic decisions regarding health care services that everyone eventually, and inevitably, will need, is a reasonable means of effectuating Congress' goal," he wrote.

Lawyers for the law center argued that it is not possible to regulate a lack of action—not buying insurance—but Steeh disagreed. He sided with the argument made by Justice Department attorneys that not purchasing insurance means other people will eventually have to pick up the bill when the uninsured fall ill and need services.

"Far from 'inactivity, by choosing to forgo insurance plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, rather than now through the purchase of insurance, collectively shifting billions of dollars, $43 billion in 2008, onto other market participants," Steeh wrote.

Steeh was appointed to his seat in 1998 by President Clinton.

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