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updated 10/7/2010 8:00:33 PM ET 2010-10-08T00:00:33

A federal judge on Thursday rejected an attempt to stop some key provisions of the new national health-care law, saying Congress has the authority to require people to get insurance by 2014.

The ruling — the first in a challenge to the Obama administration's health care overhaul — came in a lawsuit filed in Michigan by a Christian legal group, the Thomas More Law Center, and four people who claimed lawmakers exceeded their power under the Constitution's commerce clause.

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Insurance mandate and penalty is legal
But U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh in Detroit said the insurance mandate, and the financial penalty if someone skips coverage, are not illegal. He said Congress was trying to lower the overall cost of insurance by requiring participation.

"Without the minimum coverage provision, there would be an incentive for some individuals to wait to purchase health insurance until they needed care, knowing that insurance would be available at all times," the judge said.

"As a result, the most costly individuals would be in the insurance system and the least costly would be outside it," Steeh said. "In turn, this would aggravate current problems with cost-shifting and lead to even higher premiums."

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler noted the ruling "marks the first time a court has considered the merits of any challenge to this law."

"The court found that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable means for Congress to take in reforming our health care system," Schmaler said. "The department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation."

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Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he would take the case to a federal appeals court in Cincinnati.

Plaintiffs object to forced insurance
The four individual plaintiffs said they do not have private insurance and object to being compelled to buy it. They also fear that any financial penalty paid to the government if they don't get insurance by 2014 would be used to pay for abortions.

In Florida, a federal judge is overseeing a lawsuit filed by 20 states. They, too, say the law is unconstitutional and claim it would force states to absorb higher Medicaid costs. A decision on whether to dismiss the case is expected by Oct. 14, though the judge said last month that he likely would dismiss only parts while letting others go to trial.

There is also a lawsuit pending in Virginia.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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