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Obama's health reform survives challenges

RICHMOND, Va. -- The federal health care overhaul survived two lawsuits dismissed yesterday on technicalities, leaving President Barack Obama's signature initiative headed toward a final resolution in the U.S. Supreme Court as early as next year.

It's possible the high court could rule on the issue by next June, in the midst of Obama's re-election bid.

A three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ignored the core issue of whether the law can require that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty starting in 2014. In the lawsuit filed by Liberty University, the court ruled that the penalty amounted to a tax -- and that a tax can't be challenged before it's collected. The panel said the state of Virginia lacked legal standing to file its lawsuit.

Three federal appeals courts have now weighed in on lawsuits filed over the law, and both opponents and advocates say the overhaul will ultimately be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

A decision by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upholding the law has been appealed. The Justice Department has yet to appeal the Aug. 13 decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which struck down the insurance mandate, and was given 60 days to appeal or ask for more time.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Republican, and Liberty University attorney Mathew Staver said they plan to appeal yesterday's rulings to the Supreme Court.

The only questions are which case or cases the court will look at, and when that might occur, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "The court will entertain at least one if not all of them," he said.

The Obama administration acknowledged after yesterday's rulings that more legal hurdles await in the coming weeks.