Wed., June 8, 2011 5:36pm (EDT)

Judges Hear Healthcare Act Arguments
By Melissa Stiers
Updated: 3 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
(photo by Michael Tam via flickr)
(photo by Michael Tam via flickr)
Federal judges heard arguments challenging the federal healthcare overhaul law in an Atlanta courtroom Wednesday. Georgia is among 25 other states in the lawsuit.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens says the law violates civil liberties because it would make people purchase health insurance.

“This is about real money, and you just don’t do what Congress did after 220 years and say we’re now going to regulate …what we think people need rather than let people have that decision through the right to vote,” says Olens.

Opponents say the law creates a slippery slope which could eventually let Congress require people purchase other goods.

Acting US Solicitor General Neal Katyal says that healthcare insurance is unique because healthcare can not be denied in the event of an emergency. And since someone will have to pay the cost eventually, Congress has the right to regulate it under the interstate commerce clause.

Judges also asked what severing that part of the law would do to the rest of the act. For instance, the one that gets rid of pre-existing condition considerations.

Attorney General Greg Abbott is from Texas.

"Practically speaking the individual mandate is so interwoven with the remainder of the law," says Abbott. "I don’t see how the court could sever the individual mandate from the remainder of the law and still have the rest of the law stand."

Much of the dialogue surrounded the individual mandate, but judges also questioned the law’s Medicaid expansion component.

Lawyer Paul Clement argued on behalf of the states. He says that’s what makes this case unique among the many lawsuits challenging the law.

"This is the most coercive statute passed in a way that limits the ability of the states to make a coherent decision on whether they want to accept conditions or not," says Clement.

The health care act does give states an opt-out provision but Clement says it’s unthinkable for states to do so because it could cut federal Medicaid funding.

General Katyal says that states have a while to comply and the federal government will pay for most of the expansion.

Still, Olens says that it would cost the state over $2 billion in the next ten years.

The appeals hearing is the second step in a lengthy legal process.

Whatever these judges rule is expected to be challenged in the US Supreme Court.