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Holder, Sebelius defend health care reform law after judge's ruling

By the CNN Wire Staff
Kathleen Sebelius and Eric Holder say many Americans with health insurance pay more "because of our broken system."
Kathleen Sebelius and Eric Holder say many Americans with health insurance pay more "because of our broken system."
  • Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius defend the law in a Washington Post op-ed
  • A judge ruled this week part of the law is unconstitutional
  • The case could end up in the Supreme Court

(CNN) -- One day after a Virginia federal judge ruled a key part of President Barack Obama's health care reform law was unconstitutional, two members of Obama's administration spoke out publicly defending the law.

In an op-ed piece that appeared on The Washington Post's website Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius say that insured Americans carry an unfair burden in paying for those who don't have health insurance.

"The majority of Americans who have health insurance pay a higher price because of our broken system," they wrote. "Every insured family pays an average of $1,000 more a year in premiums to cover the care of those who have no insurance."

To stop imposing extra costs on people who carry insurance, Holder and Sebelius wrote, "everyone who can afford coverage needs to carry minimum health coverage starting in 2014."

But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson struck down the "individual mandate" requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014.

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"An individual's personal decision to purchase -- or decline purchase -- (of) health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the U.S. Constitution," Hudson wrote, also stating that "no specifically articulated constitutional authority exists to mandate the purchase of health insurance."

Virginia officials had argued that the Constitution's Commerce Clause does not give the government the authority to force Americans to purchase a commercial product -- like health insurance -- that they may not want or need. They equated such a requirement to a burdensome regulation of "inactivity."

Virginia is one of the few states in the country with a specific law saying residents cannot be forced to buy insurance.

"I am gratified we prevailed," Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican elected in 2009, said about Monday's ruling. He added that the decision "is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution."

Hudson's opinion contradicts other court rulings in Virginia and Michigan that found the mandate constitutionally permissible.

In their Washington Post op-ed piece, Holder and Sebelius describe the case of a New Hampshire preschool teacher, Gail O'Brien, who delayed treatment for an aggressive form of lymphoma because she couldn't afford rounds of chemotherapy costing $16,000 each.

"Thanks to this law, O'Brien is getting treatment through a temporary program that provides affordable coverage to people who've been shut out of the insurance market because of a preexisting condition," the two wrote. "Even better, she knows that in 2014 insurers will be banned from discriminating against her or any American with preexisting conditions."

Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March, after promoting Democratic-led health reform efforts for months after taking office. Among other things, the measure was designed to help millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans receive adequate and affordable health care through a series of government-imposed mandates and subsidies.

Critics have equated the measure to socialized medicine, fearing that a bloated government bureaucracy will result in higher taxes and diminished health care services. About two dozen challenges have been filed in federal courts nationwide.

The Justice Department is expected to challenge the Hudson's findings in a federal appeals court, and the case could end up in the Supreme Court.

CNN Supreme Court producer Bill Mears contributed to this report.