A federal judge ruled Monday that the new U.S. health-care reform law is unconstitutional, saying the federal government has no authority to require citizens to buy health insurance.
That provision is a cornerstone of the new legislation, signed into law in March by President Barack Obama.
The judge's decision was not unexpected, and both supports and opponents of the legislation anticipate the validity of the new health law ultimately will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush who had seemed sympathetic to the state of Virginia's case when oral arguments were heard in October, the Associated Press reported.
Last week, White House officials said a negative ruling would not affect the implementation of the law because its major provisions don't take effect until 2014, the AP reported.
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Republican, had filed a lawsuit in defense of a new Virginia law barring the federal government from requiring state residents to buy health insurance. He argued that it is unconstitutional for the federal law to force citizens to buy health insurance and to assess a penalty if they don't.
The U.S. Justice Department said the insurance mandate falls within the scope of the federal government's authority under the Commerce Clause. But Cuccinelli said deciding not to buy insurance is an economic matter outside the government's domain.
By 2019, the law will expand health insurance access to 94 percent of non-elderly Americans. Advocates say that between now and then, it will also provide Americans with many new rights and protections.
Key provisions include:
Health plans may no longer deny coverage to people based on pre-existing health conditions.
Health plans that cover dependents must permit children to stay on a parent's family policy until age 26.
Insurers may no longer place lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits.
New health plans must offer preventive services such as mammograms and colon cancer screenings without charging a deductible, co-payment or coinsurance. (This provision does not apply to existing plans that are "grandfathered.")