A judge put on hold his ruling that President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare law was unconstitutional pending appeal, allowing the White House to continue implementing the reforms aimed at lowering soaring healthcare costs.
But U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ordered the administration to seek within the next week an expedited appellate review of his January 31 ruling, which favored arguments by 26 states that requiring Americans to buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty was unconstitutional.
The Obama administration previously has said it would appeal the Florida judge's ruling and continue implementing the law, which includes provisions allowing young adults to remain on their parents' healthcare insurance and prevents insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.
While Vinson and a federal judge in Virginia have ruled against the law, a cornerstone of Obama's domestic agenda, judges in several other states have dismissed challenges.
Vinson, who was appointed to the bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan, is alone in having ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down.
In his order on Thursday, Vinson said the highly-politicized case is expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court.
"It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward as soon as practically possible," he wrote.
Vinson's order, which basically stayed his January 31 ruling pending appeal, was prompted by a request filed by the Department of Justice on February 17. In its court filing, the government said the "sweeping nature" of Vinson's judgment that the healthcare overhaul was unconstitutional posed a risk of "serious harm to many Americans" already benefiting from provisions of the new law.
It also warned it could hamper efforts to combat fraud and waste in Medicare and Medicaid, the massive federal programs that provide healthcare to the elderly and poor, and "impose staggering administrative burdens" on the government and its fiscal intermediaries, as they would be forced to revamp a system that pays about 100 million Medicare claims processed each month.
"The court's declaratory judgment potentially implicates hundreds of provisions of the Act and, if it were interpreted to apply to programs currently in effect, duties currently in force, taxes currently being collected, and tax credits that may be owed at this time or in the near future, would create substantial uncertainty," the court filing said.