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Health care law reaches federal appeals court in Virginia

By Josh Furlong | Posted - May 10, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia will hear the nation's first appeal of President Barack Obama's monumental Affordable Care Act, a controversial health care bill mandating health insurance for all Americans.

Since its passage by Congress in March 2010, the law continues to be a divisive issue for many Americans, with many believing that the government cannot mandate individuals to buy health insurance. Even federal judges across the country are divided on the constitutionality of the law's mandate.

Tuesday's introductory review will involve a three-panel judge that will hear two cases; one filed by Liberty University, a private Christian institution, and one from the state of Virginia.

Much of the debate surrounding the health care mandate involves forcing Americans to purchase health insurance even if an individual chooses to forego the protection, saying that it is a violation of the Constitution's Commerce Clause. Additionally, conservatives argue that taxpayer dollars will be used to fund unwanted procedures such as abortion.

We want to win as many of these as we can. If we have nothing but wins all the way up to the Supreme Court, there is an element of momentum, I think, where the justices consider what has gone on before the case came to them.

–Kenneth Cuccinelli II

Proponents of the act argue that millions of individuals are without health insurance and are forced to use services they cannot pay for, which causes a substantial impact on the country's interstate commerce.

According to the New York Times, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II said: "We want to win as many of these as we can. If we have nothing but wins all the way up to the Supreme Court, there is an element of momentum, I think, where the justices consider what has gone on before the case came to them."

So what does this mean to residents of Utah?

Late last year, Utah joined with 25 other states in a similar motion to repeal the law, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority to expand its reach of the Commerce Clause, forcing all Americans to purchase health insurance.

Despite the state's attempt to repeal the act, Utah has already received benefits of President Obama's health care reform.

Such benefits include a closure of the Medicare Part D donut hole, which is a gap in Medicare drug coverage, forcing individuals to pay for their own medication once they hit the donut hole.

Additionally, tax credits have been applied to small businesses, early retirees have access to health coverage under Medicare, coverage has been extended to young adults, and individuals with pre-existing conditions have the opportunity to be insured.

According to, repealing the law would "strip Americans of this new freedom and take us back to the days when big insurance companies had the power to decide what care residents of Utah could receive."

The website additionally contends that without President Obama's health care reform, insurance companies could once again deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, cancel coverage for the sick, and place limits on the care people receive.

Providing that the appellate court affirms the decision of the lower courts, opponents of the law are one step closer to eliminating a mandate on health insurance, granting the state of Utah the ability to dictate its own laws relating to health insurance and the coverage provided to its citizens.

Appeals courts in Atlanta and Cincinnati are set to hear additional motions starting next month, reviewing the constitutionality of the Commerce Clause, in addition to a patients right to health insurance. It is expected that the state of Utah will continue to remain active in the appeals process, lending support to the progress needed to repeal the law.

Despite the outcome, it is expected that the Supreme Court will eventually be asked to make a final decision on the law, deciding the constitutionality of the law just in time for the upcoming 2012 presidential election cycle.

Whether you're for or against the appeal, Utah will be greatly affected by its outcome.

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Josh Furlong

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