Employer organizations and trade groups expressed mixed reactions Wednesday afternoon when the first federal appeals court to rule on the health care reform law upheld the constitutionally of its so-called individual mandate provision.

The June 29 ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds an appeal from a Distrcit Court that the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires that all applicable individuals maintain minimum essential health insurance or pay a penalty, is constitutionally sound.

The ruling is very significant, says Brian M. Pinheiro, employee benefits law partner at Ballard Spahr LLP’s Philadelphia office. For the first time, a Republican-appointed judge agreed that the rule is constitutional and the court seemed to really focus on the issue of constitutionally, he says.

The court ruled that the provision is sound for two principal reasons. First, it regulates economic decisions regarding how to pay for health care that has “substantial effects in the interstate health care market,” and the provision “is essential to the Act’s larger regulation of the interstate market for health insurance,” wrote Circuit Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. in the ruling.

This ruling gives the Supreme Court a means of reviewing the case, Pinheiro says, as the plaintiffs in the Circuit Court ruling will likely appeal to the high court.

“This just underscores the importance of other Circuit Courts of Appeal to come forward with their decisions as soon as possible,” adds Jim Klein, president of the Washington-based American Benefits Council, which has no opinion on the law other then wanting to know it’s status.

The case is currently under appeal in the 4th Circuit Court in Virginia and 11th Circuit Court in Florida.

Klein says all his clients want is certainty “with respect to this important question of the law’s constitutionally” and finds the ruling significant because of how close the issue is being followed by stakeholders.

However, for those who believe the law is “fundamentally flawed,” the ruling means little. The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers’ Brianne Mallaghan says CIAB is not “invested in the litigation, and aren’t banking on the courts to upend the law.”

“We’ll continue to press our case legislatively on the PPACA threat to employer-provided group health insurance,” adds Mallaghan, CIAB’s director of communications.

Ryan Young, senior director of federal government affairs at the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America agrees. The Big “I” believes the ruling is not very significant and does not affect the group’s strategy — which is full repeal of the law through legislation, he says.

There are a lot of different cases making it through the courts, Young adds: “This is going to be a long, long battle."


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