WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's most influential small business
lobby is joining a court challenge to President Barack Obama's
health care overhaul, arguing that Americans cannot be required
under the Constitution to obtain insurance coverage.
The National Federation of Independent Business will announce
Friday it is joining a federal lawsuit filed in Florida by 20 state
attorneys general and governors, NFIB President Dan Danner said in
an interview. All but one of the state officials are Republicans,
and the case coincides with an election year.
NFIB's involvement ensures that constitutional arguments for
overturning the health care law - even if they fail to sway federal
judges - will be extensively aired in the fall campaigns. With
350,000 members, the group boasts a far-reaching network of local
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a leader of the legal
challenge and a GOP candidate for governor, said he has "received
a lot of strong response and reaction in support when I have spoken
of this subject. I think voters as a whole are concerned."
A groundswell of opposition to the law from small business
owners prompted NFIB's decision to join the court challenge, said
Karen Harned, a senior lawyer for the group. "The second the law
was signed, NFIB was hearing from its members: 'What are you all
going to do about this?'," said Harned. "So we hunkered down. We
looked around. This state attorneys general lawsuit made the most
sense for us. It's the only one that has a national presence."
The health care law, passed by a Congress divided on partisan
lines, puts the nation on a path to coverage for all. One of its
pillars is the requirement that most Americans carry health
insurance - through an employer, a government program, or by buying
their own policy.
The mandate is effective in 2014, when new competitive insurance
markets open for business. Insurers will then be required to take
all applicants, no longer allowed to turn away those in poor
health. The government will offer tax credits to help middle-class
households pay premiums. And Medicaid will be expanded to cover
millions more low-income people.
Individuals who refuse to get health insurance will be hit with
a tax penalty, although exceptions are allowed for financial
hardship and religious reasons. Businesses will also be required to
contribute to the cost of their workers' health insurance, but
companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt.
The Obama administration argues that the coverage requirements
rest on a solid constitutional foundation: the power of Congress to
regulate interstate commerce.
But critics say that does not give government the right to
direct individuals to purchase a specific good or service.
The new law allows government "to regulate you just because you
exist," said Danner. "If you can regulate this, where do you
stop? Do you tell people, 'We are going to mandate that everybody
exercise?' We think this is an overreach by the government. It goes
too far, and threatens individual freedom."
The administration counters that a decision to opt out of health
insurance is not merely a matter of personal choice. It has
consequences for others, since uninsured people will get sick, or
have accidents, and someone must pay for their care if they can't
"Individual decisions to forgo insurance coverage, in the
aggregate, substantially affect interstate commerce by shifting
costs to health care providers and the public," Justice Department
said this week in legal papers filed in a similar lawsuit in
People who remain uninsured by choice "have not opted out of
health care; they are not passive bystanders divorced from the
health care market," the government continued. "They have made a
choice regarding the method of payment for the services they expect
to receive, no less 'active' than a decision to pay by credit card
rather than by check."
Legal scholars are divided over prospects for the case. Many -
but not all - expect the administration to prevail.
Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University law
school in Virginia, said:
"These are not really legal cases - they are political