Federal Court Tosses NH Man's Health Overhaul Suit

April 1, 2011 - 3:14 PM

Concord, N.H. (AP) - A federal court has thrown out a New Hampshire man's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the government's health care overhaul, saying he lacked standing to sue because his Medicare coverage will automatically satisfy the law's insurance mandate.

Harold Peterson, 80, of Nashua, sued President Barack Obama and Congress last year objecting mainly to the law's requirement that nearly all Americans carry health insurance.

While similar lawsuits have been filed around the country, Peterson's case appears to have been the first brought by a Medicare recipient, according to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante, who dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday.

Laplante acknowledged that the law, and the insurance mandate in particular, "may raise interesting constitutional issues," but said Peterson had no standing to challenge it because he did not plausibly explain how the mandate would harm him.

"As the defendants note, Medicare coverage automatically satisfies the Act's health insurance mandate. So Peterson will not have to incur any financial burdens, or indeed do anything at all, to satisfy the mandate. The federal government will satisfy it for him," the court wrote.

Peterson, who works as a real estate consultant and represented himself in court, said Friday that he disagrees with that reasoning because he believes the law could end up reducing Medicare benefits.

"The fact that you have Medicare doesn't make a difference because Medicare is being impacted as well," he said.

The court pointed out that the law expressly states that none of its provisions shall result in a reduction of guaranteed benefits for those covered by Medicare, the government health program for people over age 65. While that doesn't necessarily guarantee the intended results, Peterson's speculation that the law may end up causing benefit reductions wasn't enough to allow the case to continue, the judge wrote.

The court also rejected Peterson's claim that the law has caused his supplemental private health insurance premiums to rise. In order for him to sue on those grounds, he would have had to show that a ruling in his favor would have reversed that harm. But since his private insurer wasn't part of the lawsuit, declaring the law unconstitutional would not have ensured that his premiums would go down.

Despite the ruling, Peterson said he will continue to highlight what he views as a constitutional crisis.

"I decided to file it because I, as well as a lot of other people, are getting tired of the fact that our legislators and other government people are completely ignoring the Constitution," he said.