Monday, January 31, 2011

Judge Heard What Healh Care Law Did Not Say

It’s ironic that the ultimate fate of the nearly 3,000 page Patient Protection and Affordable Act (PPACA) may hinge on what was not included in the legislation.

Today’s ruling by a federal appellate court judge in Florida that the law’s individual mandate provision is unconstitutional is certainly important, but even more significant is that the judge also ruled that entire law must be struck down on the basis on non-severability. In other words, if a single provision does not pass constitutional muster, then it all gets thrown out.

This is particularly interesting because shortly after the passage of PPACA, it came to light that the law did not include a severability provision, which is a pretty standard clause for most comprehensive legislation. To this day no one really knows for sure the reason for this important omission, although the most likely theory is that it was drafting error made in the rush to pass the legislation.

Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that we needed to pass the bill to know what’s in it. Apparently we also needed to pass the bill to know what was not in it.

I have written and commented about this small but important legislative detail frequently over the past year. On more than one occasion someone has challenged me that it is not realistic to think that the entre law could be thrown out even if specific provision were voided by the courts. Conventional wisdom misses the mark once again.

So it’s off to the Supreme Court we go and we’ll see if at least five justices hear what the health care law did not say.

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