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Florida Judge Declines to Halt Health Reform Implementation

A Florida judge on Tuesday refused to order the government to stop implementing the health care reform law, handing the Obama administration at least a temporary victory in the ongoing legal battle over reform.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled in January that the health care reform law is unconstitutional, in a case brought by the attorneys general of 26 states.

Four other judges have ruled on the law — three have found it constitutional, and one has not.

But after the Florida ruling, officials in two states, Florida and Alaska, said that they would take Judge Vinson’s decision as a directive to stop implementing the law while the cases make their way to the Supreme Court — where the issue seems almost certain to be debated.

Last month, the Obama administration asked Judge Vinson to clarify his ruling and say whether he actually intended to halt implementation of the law. Some saw that as a risky move, Politico reported.

Thursday, the judge issued a stay of his ruling — saying that implementation can continue during the appeals process.

The judge did criticize the administration, though, for its response to the ruling. He said that he had intended the original decision to act as an “injunction” that would stop implementation of the law, and that he had expected that the government would immediately file a request for a stay.

Vinson wrote that he did not expect that the government “would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the act, and only then file a belated motion to ‘clarify.'”

He gave the administration seven days to file the appeal.

Timothy Jost, an expert on health law at Washington and Lee University, says that he thinks the decision to put a stay on the earlier ruling was appropriate.

“It implicitly acknowledges the chaos that would be released if the government were to slam on the brakes [on implementation],” he says. “There’s so many wheels in motion right now that you can’t just stop on a dime.”

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