Justice department begins state-by-state battle for health reform

The Obama administration filed on Tuesday its defense against the first of a growing number of state lawsuits fighting the landmark health overhaul passed in March, specifically the provision that would require nearly all citizens to purchase health insurance as of 2014. The Justice Department's 46-page brief in response to the Michigan case contained few surprises and succinctly argued that requiring Americans to carry health insurance was indeed constitutional and well within the bounds of both the Commerce Clause and Congress's power to raise taxes, reports Politico.

Government lawyers contended that the mandate was necessary, as individual opt-outs harm the whole system. "Congress determined that the healthcare system in the United States is in crisis, spawning public expense and private tragedy," said the government's brief. "After decades of failed attempts, Congress enacted comprehensive healthcare reform to deal with this overwhelming national problem. The minimum coverage provision is vital to that comprehensive scheme. Enjoining it would thwart this reform and re-ignite the crisis that the elected branches of government acted to forestall."

Further, the defense stated that states were premature in fighting the mandate that goes into effect in 2014, Reuters reports. "They bring this suit four years before the provision they challenge takes effect, demonstrate no current injury, and merely speculate whether the law will harm them once it is in force," the Justice Department told the court.

Nonetheless, the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court if it is forced to resolve conflicting rulings across various state appeals courts, notes the Associated Press. This Friday, seven more states will join a lawsuit originally filed by Florida and 12 other states in late March, bringing the total challengers to 33, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office has clarified yesterday's alarming report that discretionary spending could push the 10-year cost of health reform past $1 trillion, saying that $86 billion of that total represents funding for ongoing programs, reports the AP. According to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, the letter released by the CBO on Tuesday "simply updates" the calculation of the size of discretionary authorizations included in the legislation, and notes that authorizations don't necessarily reflect final spending.

To learn more:
- read this Associated Press article via The Clarion Ledger
- check out this Politico piece
- here's another Associated Press report via KGW.com
- read this piece from The Hill
- check out this Washington Post article

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