Many Maine eyes on U.S. Supreme Court this week

Posted March 26, 2012, at 5:25 a.m.
Last modified March 26, 2012, at 6:25 p.m.
Maine Attorney General William Schneider
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Maine Attorney General William Schneider

AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers representing both sides of the argument will be in Washington, D.C. this week as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up what many are calling the most important court case of this generation.

Maine Attorney General William Schneider, one of more than two dozen attorneys general across the country who are challenging the constitutionality of portions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, will travel to the nation’s capital Wednesday.

“I think the states really want to see this decided. We need to know so that if it is unconstitutional, Congress can craft a constitutional way to proceed,” he said in an interview Monday.

Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, was already in Washington, D.C. on Monday as oral arguments on the case began.

She said it was important for people to understand that Schneider was not the only person speaking for Mainers.

“I am here to give voice to the more than 500 state legislators who joined legal briefs to defend the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, many of whom are back in their legislatures today working hard to implement the law,” said Treat.

At stake is the individual mandate within the act that requires individuals to obtain health insurance or face a financial penalty. An attorney representing the challenging states plans to argue that Congress lacks constitutional authority to force individuals who are not participating in the insurance market to enter the market and purchase a government-prescribed insurance product.

Schneider said states also are questioning the requirement that states must expand their Medicaid programs to cover more people.

Ultimately, the court will have to decide whether the Affordable Care Act can survive with the individual mandate. Both sides seem to agree that it cannot, so a lot is at stake.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, also will be in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday and plans to host a news conference on the steps of the court to discuss the Affordable Care Act’s effect on women’s health.

“Standing up for women’s health care is critically important,” she said. “With Obamacare, we’re on the path to ending gender discrimination against women. Insurance companies can no longer call pregnancy, rape and domestic violence a pre-existing condition and use that as an excuse to deny or overcharge for coverage.”

Craven said 187,251 seniors already have gotten free preventative care through Medicare because of the Affordable Care Act and 431,000 Mainers no longer have lifetime limits or annual caps on their insurance coverage. Additionally, she said, Maine’s Community Health Centers have received over $13,200,000 to expand services around the state.

But the Affordable Care Act cannot be fully implemented until the Supreme Court weighs in.

Many states, including Maine, have stalled on creating a health exchange as outlined in the ACA because Republican lawmakers want to wait until the Supreme Court rules. Schneider said he thinks that’s a wise decision.

Polling data shows Americans are divided on the health care reform law and many are not aware of exactly what it does.

“I’ve heard that people by and large oppose the ACA, but that really doesn’t affect my decision to challenge it,” Schneider said. “My challenge is on the Constitution and it’s based on my oath to uphold the Constitution.”

Schneider, who also is a candidate for U.S. Senate, said he has no intent of politicizing his involvement in the court case.

“I’m down there as the attorney general representing the people of the state of Maine,” he said.

While Mainers travel to Washington, D.C. this week, two conservative Maine groups — American for Prosperity-Maine and the Maine Heritage Policy Center — plan to host a rally Tuesday in Augusta. Both groups strongly oppose the Affordable Care Act and have called for the law to be repealed.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear testimony through Wednesday. A decision is not expected until at least June.

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