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Utah Governor Gary Herbert praised a federal judge's decision to strike down the nation's health care overhaul, calling it "a clear win for Utah and a win for the taxpayer."
But the practical implications for states that are already enforcing early provisions of the new law are unclear.
"A lot depends on how the feds treat this," said Utah Deputy Attorney General John Swallow, who likened Monday's ruling to winning the first game of the NCAA tournament. "We won this one, but still have more games to go."
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla., said Congress overstepped constitutional limits on federal authority by requiring that nearly all Americans carry health insurance or face a financial penalty siding with 26 states, including Utah, that sued to block President Barack Obama's signature health care fix.
Vinson, a Republican appointee, is the second judge to invalidate the insurance requirement. But in declaring the whole law void, his ruling went further than an earlier decision in a Virginia case.
The insurance requirement and "remaining provisions are all inextricably bound ... and must stand or fall as a single unit," wrote Vinson in a 78-page ruling he said was "difficult" to reach "at a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country."
The judge declined to suspend the law pending appeals. But he said his declaratory judgment should be viewed as the functional equivalent of an injunction.
Swallow interprets this to mean "the federal government should not be enforcing any provisions of the health care act."
He said the ruling makes clear that laws passed in Utah and Idaho outlawing the federal intrusion "gave all of the other states legal standing in the case."
But White House officials called Vinson's ruling "judicial activism" and said they have no plans to stop implementation. The Justice Department quickly announced it would appeal and may seek a stay of the decision.
Two other federal judges have upheld the insurance requirement, which doesn't take effect until 2014. The standoff will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Herbert is "assessing with consultation from legal counsel" whether to continue to enforce the law's early requirements, said his spokeswoman Ally Isom.
The law now bars insurance companies from rejecting kids with pre-existing health conditions. Young adults can remain on their parents' health plans until they turn 26, even if they're married. And new health policies must foot the full bill for preventive care, such as mammograms, cholesterol screenings and immunizations.
These consumer protections are generally favored by Americans, notes Lincoln Nerhing, a lawyer and senior health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children who said it would be foolhardy for states to proceed as if the law is null and void.
"There's no reason to eschew federal money and guidance" on bipartisan efforts to cover the uninsured such as insurance exchanges, Nehring said.
But Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree most of the law hinges on the insurance mandate, which is designed to keep premiums in check by expanding the pool of insured.
That shared social responsibility was at the core of the Obama administration's legal argument: The government can levy a tax penalty on Americans who decide not to purchase health insurance because all Americans are consumers of medical care.
But governors and attorneys general from 26 states, led by Republican Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, argued the federal government reached beyond its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.
"Today's ruling affirms that the Constitution is not in the eye of the congressional beholder," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Said Swallow, "It sends a message to Congress they can't force Americans to buy a product they don't want to buy ... Congress can regulate commerce, but not force people into commerce."
The Associated Press contributed to this report
A review • The ruling
R A federal judge in Florida struck down national health reform as unconstitutional.
What it means • The case marks the largest challenge so far to the health reform law.
What's next • The Justice Department said it will appeal and the matter will likely come before the U.S. Supreme Court.