CINCINNATI — An attorney urged a federal appeals panel in arguments Wednesday to take a stand against expansion of federal power by rejecting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Robert Muise told the three-judge 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel that the law's mandate to buy health insurance goes beyond congressional authority. The government contends that it's needed to make overall changes work for a health care system that virtually everyone uses at some time and that it falls within federal powers to regular interstate commerce.
"This case transcends health care ... well beyond health care," said Muise, attorney for the conservative Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. "This is where the line has to be drawn."
He said Congress shouldn't be allowed to force someone to participate and that a requirement subjecting some people to penalties for not buying insurance would mean the federal government was regulating non-activity.
The "exceedingly broad" measure would open the door for even more regulation in other areas, Muise said.
Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal said the measure is needed to reduce health care costs and to protect those with pre-existing conditions. The coverage mandate will help keep billions of dollars in health care costs for the uninsured from being shifted to households with higher premiums and to health care providers, he said.
"Congress is dealing with a quintessentially national problem," Katyal said.
He said letting people wait until they're sick to buy health insurance would be like letting people buy fire insurance when their house is burning. He also said the health care market doesn't work like other markets, citing the example of an uninsured person getting treatment at a hospital.
"I can't show up at the General Motors dealer and say, 'Give me a car,'" said Katyal, who also argued the government's case in defense of the law last month before a panel in Virginia.
Some 100 people packed the courtroom to hear the arguments and judges' questioning of the attorneys. Groups in favor of the health care law spoke outside the building, while some opponents demonstrated against it.
The judges in Cincinnati — two appointed by Republican presidents and one by a Democrat — didn't set a timetable for their ruling. The 4th U.S. Circuit appeals court based in Richmond, Va., heard oral arguments May 10. That panel was all Democrat-appointed judges.
More than 30 legal challenges to the law have been filed, and lower-court rulings so far have found Democrat-appointed judges upholding the law and Republican appointees rejecting it. In Michigan, a Democrat-appointed federal judge rejected the legal challenge that was before the Cincinnati judges Wednesday.
The Cincinnati circuit hears appeals of cases in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, and such appellate courts are the last before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue is expected to reach the high court, possibly in time for a decision on Obama's signature legislation before the 2012 elections.
The arguments opened with the government's challenge to the validity of the appeal and the plaintiffs' standing because a woman who was part of the Michigan arguments now has insurance. Muise countered that other individuals are already being affected by the mandate because they're cutting spending and making financial changes in anticipation of buying insurance or paying a penalty starting in 2014.
Federal and state governments have already begun implementing other parts of the law, such as allowing children up to age 26 to stay under their parents' coverage and making changes in Medicare payment rates.
Contact Dan Sewell at www.twitter.com/dansewell