A US federal judge in Florida struck down the landmark healthcare law backed by President Barack Obama, finding that the Congress exceeded its authority to require individuals to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a fine, er, "penalty". In a challenge by 26 states, Judge Roger Vinson (pictured) ruled that "because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void."
In often colorful language that invoked the Boston Tea Party, Vinson, an appointee of President Reagan, rejected the administration's argument that Congress' broad powers to regulate commerce allowed lawmakers to require Americans to buy health insurance. "The existing problems in our national healthcare system are recognized," Vinson wrote in his 78-page decision. "There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution." Vinson warned that if Congress could require health insurance, it could also decide for Americans "whether and when (or not) to buy a house, a car, a television, a dinner or even a morning cup of coffee." "It is difficult to imagine," Vinson said, "that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place." The insurance mandate in the healthcare law was designed to spread risk more broadly and control insurance premiums, enabling the federal government to offer consumers other protections — such as prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to those with preexisting medical conditions.The White House said the opinion will not slow down implementation of the law, and that it's far from the last word on the legal battle. “This is not the last word by any means,” a White House official said. “We are quite confident it won’t stand.”