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Top court names lawyers to argue healthcare case

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Friday named an attorney to argue that challenges to President Barack Obama's healthcare insurance requirements must wait until after that part of the law has taken effect in 2014.

The high court also appointed a second attorney to argue that all other parts of the law can stand if the centerpiece provision - the requirement that all Americans buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty - is struck down.

The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it would hear arguments in March over Obama's sweeping healthcare overhaul law, with a ruling likely by July in the election year on the fate of his signature domestic achievement.

The court agreed to hear an Obama administration appeal defending the law and urging it be upheld and two separate appeals by 26 states and an independent business group challenging the law and urging it be struck down.

The court brought in two veteran Washington, D.C., attorneys, H. Bartow Farr III and Robert Long, to argue positions that none of the other parties were advocating.

Long, a partner at Covington & Burling, will argue that lawsuits challenging the insurance purchase requirement, a provision known as the individual mandate, are barred because the penalty has yet to be imposed.

At issue is a federal law called the Anti-Injunction Act and whether the challenges must wait until taxpayers actually begin paying the penalty for not purchasing insurance.

That position was adopted by a U.S. appeals court in Virginia and a dissenting U.S. appeals court judge in Washington.

Farr, a partner at Farr & Taranto, will argue that if government cannot require people to buy health insurance, all other provisions of the law can go into effect.

The Obama administration argued that it would be wrong to strike down all other provisions of the law, especially those unrelated to the mandate, such as the requirement that insurers provide coverage for young adults.

But it said two key provisions could not be separated from the mandate and would have to fall if it were struck down.

The two provisions bar insurers from refusing to issue coverage to a person because of a pre-existing medical condition, and bar insurers from charging higher premiums based on a person's medical history.

The states and the business group argued the rest of the law cannot survive if the insurance mandate is struck down.

Other issues to be argued will be whether Congress exceeded its powers in adopting the individual mandate and whether Congress improperly coerced the states to expand the Medicaid program that provides healthcare to the poor.

The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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