Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Amended complaint filed Bryant v. Holder - but it's still flawed

The plaintiffs in Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant v. Eric Holder Jr. (Civ. Act No. 2:10-CV-76-KS-MTP), have filed an amended complaint, after the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi issued a ruling, without prejudice, that they did not have standing to file suit. At this level, the plaintiffs only have to allege facts necessary for the suit to proceed, but it will be interesting in the coming weeks and months to hear them explain the specifics of what they've alleged.

The court held that they failed to plead exemptions to the penalty, failed to plead they’re above the income threshold, failed to show impending injury and failed to show they didn’t meet a religious exemption in the ACA. In the original complaint, the plaintiffs alleged injury from (1) having to purchase health insurance, (2) economic harm of a tax penalty if they don’t purchase health insurance, and (3) economic harm from having to rearrange their affairs in order to pay the penalty for not purchasing health insurance. These allegations were reiterated in the amended complaint.

The plaintiffs have now further alleged that they are “applicable individuals” under the ACA, are not incarcerated, that they do not meet the requirements for the ACA's religious exemption, and that they are not individuals who cannot afford coverage. The complaint further alleges that the ACA is causing them to ". . . currently experience fear, anxiety and emotional distress over their loss of medical privacy, . . .”

The plaintiffs are further arguing that the ACA's religious exemption violates the constitution by discriminating against various faiths because it would allow members of certain religions, ". . . who otherwise would be subject to the Individual Mandate to not comply with the mandate or be subject to any penalties for such noncompliance, while followers of other faiths (like the religious faiths of Petitioners) are subject to the Individual Mandate and to penalties for noncompliance.” But, don't other federal laws, such as the FMLA, already make allowances for members of certain religions if they have prohibitions against certain kinds of medical treatment? For example, in the recent First Circuit decision Tayag v. Lahey Clinic Hospital, Inc., No. 10-1169, (CA-1), January 27, 2011, the court pointed out that there is a "Christian Science exception" adopted by Congress, which extends FMLA protection for leave to those seeking care from religious institutions. That exception applies, however, only if the acceptance of standard medical care would be antithetical to a patient's religious beliefs. That is why one cannot expect to be given FMLA leave both for standard medical treatment and for religious nonmedical healing.

The plaintiffs add that the ACA will violate their right to privacy because the new law will require them to divulge confidential medical information to insurance companies as a result of entering into health insurance contracts in compliance with the ACA's individual mandate.

The complaint explains that some of the plaintiffs do not have health insurance, do not care to buy any, and don't want to reveal confidential medical information to any insurance company. This reason alone, they contend, would inspire them to contest the ACA's constitutionality.

One can't help wondering, what health information could they possibly not want to divulge if they see no reason to buy health insurance? Wouldn’t that mean they’re particularly healthy? At any rate, someone should probably advise the plaintiffs that any economic harm they might experience via the ACA's tax penalty if they don’t purchase health insurance or if they have to rearrange their affairs will pale in comparison with any medical bills they will have to pay if they incur a major illness or run into any kind of catastrophic medical situation.

For more information. For a comprehensive analysis of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and additional information on health reform and other developments in employee benefits, just click here.


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