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A Times Editorial

Health care lawsuit more about politics than Constitution

Nearly 4 million uninsured Floridians, seniors facing the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole and young adults who can remain on their parents' insurance policies longer are substantially better off now that health care reform is law. That hasn't stopped Attorney General Bill McCollum and 12 other state attorneys general from challenging it in court and wasting taxpayers' money.

McCollum's lawsuit makes dubious claims about the new law's constitutionality, and it reads more like a political manifesto than a legal argument. This is more about the Republican's campaign for governor and rallying the party base than about sound constitutional reasoning.

One of the lawsuit's primary arguments is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because it usurps state sovereignty by requiring states to expand Medicaid coverage. Florida will be required to cover more people, and ultimately that will cost the state more money. But Medicaid is a federal-state partnership. The new law doesn't require Florida to participate in Medicaid; it just adds new rules. Federal dollars often come with strings attached, so this argument is a stretch.

The lawsuit's other major claim is that requiring every individual to obtain health insurance violates Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The new law says individuals who have not purchased coverage by 2014 will have to pay a tax, although there are some exceptions. The attorneys general argue that imposes an obligation on merely existing, which can't possibly impact interstate commerce.

The individual mandate may be a unique element, but there are plenty of congressional findings connecting personal health insurance decisions to the effective operation of the entire health care system. Health care constitutes a sixth of the U.S. economy and substantially impacts interstate commerce. Without a mandate that everyone be covered, many Americans would continue to be uninsured and their medical costs would continue to be absorbed by taxpayers and the privately insured in the form of higher premiums. The best way to make health insurance more available and affordable is to cover everyone and spread the risk.

There are other elements of this misguided adventure that smell funny. McCollum hired Baker & Hostetler, a Washington firm where McCollum used to work, to represent the states. Two partners in the firm already were advocating against the reforms, and this looks like a way for an old friend to pay them to keep making the case. And despite suggestions by McCollum to the contrary, no other state has yet agreed to share the cost.

The suit also was filed in federal court in Pensacola instead of in Tallahassee. By filing in Pensacola, the plaintiffs were certain to have the case heard by a judge appointed by a Republican president. Senior Judge Roger Vinson, who drew the case, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Had the suit been filed in Tallahassee, the plaintiffs could have been heard by Judge Robert Hinkle, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

This looks like judge shopping and offers further evidence that the lawsuit is more about Republican Party politics than constitutional principles.

Health care lawsuit more about politics than Constitution 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 7:48pm]
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