Maine, 5 other states to join Obama health care lawsuit

Posted Jan. 18, 2011, at 4:16 p.m.

Maine and five more states joined a lawsuit in Florida against President Obama’s health care overhaul on Tuesday, meaning more than half of the country is challenging the law.

Maine Attorney General William Schneider has asked the state of Florida to petition the federal court in that state to allow Maine and five other states to join the multistate lawsuit challenging some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The six additional states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined Florida and 19 others in the legal action, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said.

In a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon, Schneider said he is following through on his oath of office.

“As Attorney General I took an oath to protect the people of Maine. Health care in the United States is at a critical point and needs to be fixed so that all citizens have access to good quality and affordable health care,” he said. But the federal law is “based on an unconstitutional foundation” and represents “an unprecedented expansion of federal power,” he said. “I hope the court will allow Maine to join this important lawsuit and settle the constitutionality of whether the federal government can force all citizens to purchase or maintain health insurance.”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage expressed support for Schneider’s move, along with Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

Response was swift from those who oppose Maine joining the lawsuit.

“House Democrats are incredibly disappointed to learn … that the attorney general has given in to pressure to politicize his department at the cost of Maine taxpayers,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono. “This is clear sign that this administration has gone back on its promise to put people before politics. Repealing the law will make it harder for seniors to pay for prescription drugs, for young people to get on their parents’ insurance, and will increase taxes on small businesses.”

Cain said in a phone interview that the administration of Gov. Paul LePage should focus on solving “real problems that affect Maine people” such as improving funding for schools, developing a healthier business climate and lowering the cost of energy and not join the “politically ramped-up” challenge to national health care reform.

The announcement was made as House members in Washington, led by Republicans, debated whether to repeal the law.

The states claim the health care law is unconstitutional and violates people’s rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.

Government attorneys have said the states do not have standing to challenge the law and want the case dismissed.

Lawsuits have been filed elsewhere. A federal judge in Virginia ruled in December that the insurance-purchase mandate was unconstitutional, though two other federal judges have upheld the requirement. It’s expected the Supreme Court ultimately will have to resolve the issue.

“It is important to note that two of the three courts that have reviewed this law on the merits have found it constitutional, and those decisions — as well as two others the government prevailed on — are pending in courts of appeal. At the same time, trial courts in additional cases have dismissed numerous challenges on jurisdictional and other grounds that have not been appealed,” Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.

Meanwhile, the White House dismissed an expected vote on repealing the law, saying the Republicans’ push was not a serious legislative effort. Democrats have a majority in the Senate and they have said they will block repeal in that chamber.

In the Florida case, the states also argue the federal government is violating the Constitution by forcing a mandate on the states without providing money to pay for it. They say the new law gives the states the impossible choice of accepting the new costs or forfeiting federal Medicaid funding.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Schneider did not mention the Medicaid issue, but he has referenced it as a concern in recent interviews.

Florida U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson could rule later this month whether he will grant a summary judgment in favor of the states or the Obama administration without a trial.

Florida’s former Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the lawsuit just minutes after President Barack Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law in March. He chose a court in Pensacola, one of Florida’s most conservative cities. The nation’s most influential small-business lobby, the National Federation of Independent Business, also joined the suit.

Joining the coalition in the Florida case were Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The other states that are suing are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

BDN writer Meg Haskell and Associated Press writer Melissa Nelson contributed to this report.

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