Ask the legal expert: How will the legal system handle healthcare reform lawsuits?
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
A: The legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an issue of high importance to healthcare providers. Parts of the Act already have taken effect, and the remainder of the Act will phase in until 2014. On June 8, 2011, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard oral arguments in the federal government's appeal of a Florida District Court's decision to overturn the entire act.
The District Court declared a provision of the act to be unconstitional, that of the “individual mandate.” The court held that the mandate is not severable from the remainder of the bill, and thus the entire act is unconstitutional and unenforceable.
One other District Court had earlier come to the same conclusion regarding the constitutionality of the mandate but did not find the entire act unconstitutional. Three other district courts have held that the mandate is constitutional, and two other federal courts are considering separate but similar legal challenges to the act.
It is widely believed that the debate over the mandate will reach the Supreme Court within the next few years, and it is difficult to predict what the court will decide. Whatever the outcome, it is likely that many of the Act's requirements affecting senior living facilities will remain in effect in some form because Congress will be free to pass provisions of the act that are not directly related to the mandate.
Moreover, many government agencies already have promulgated regulations to implement provisions of the act. Providers should take steps to ensure they are compliant with these federal rules.
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