ORLANDO — Florida, which led the challenge to the health care overhaul law, had the nation's third-highest rate of residents without health insurance during the past three years, according to census data released Tuesday.
Almost 21 percent of Floridians lacked health insurance during the past three years. The national average was just under 16 percent. Only Texas and New Mexico had higher rates of residents without health insurance.
The rate of uninsured in Florida also rose during the past four years, as the Sunshine State has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, standing at 10.7 percent in July. The rate of the uninsured went from 19.6 percent in 2007-2008 to 21.3 percent in 2009-2010.
"As people lose their jobs, or maybe get scaled back on work, there are a number of people who lost health insurance coverage," said Leda Perez, vice president for health initiatives at the Collins Center for Public Policy, a Florida-based think tank.
The health care overhaul law requires that Americans carry health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. Starting in 2014, those who cannot show they are covered by an employer, government program or their own policy will face fines from the IRS. Opponents say a federal requirement that individuals obtain a specific service — a costly one in the case of health insurance — is unprecedented and oversteps the authority the Constitution gives Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
Then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a lawsuit challenging the provisions the health care plan just minutes after President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in 2010. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Pensacola ruled that the health care law was unconstitutional. The ruling was appealed to the appellate court in Atlanta, joining two other appellate courts that have received cases challenging the new law.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta struck down the insurance mandate. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled that the state of Virginia lacked legal standing to file a challenge. A decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upholding the law already has been appealed. All sides agree the law's legality likely will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.