Democratic governors defend health care overhaul

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 25, 2010 4:35pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A small group of Democratic governors this week launched a counter-attack over the federal healthcare overhaul, firing back against legal challenges from nearly two dozen state attorneys general who are seeking to overturn the new law.

In a sign of the partisan divisions over the landmark health care law, each governor is a Democrat representing a state with a Republican attorney general trying to strike down the legislation.

The governors of Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington requested permission to file an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in a lawsuit against the healthcare plan.

They have asked to argue on the side of the defendants in President Barack Obama's administration.

The same day that Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act along party lines in March, a group of state attorneys general filed a joint lawsuit in Pensacola, Florida, saying the law was unconstitutional.

"I've said from the beginning - the action of the attorney general in filing this lawsuit does not represent the governor, the insurance commissioner, legislative leadership, or thousands of Washingtonians in our state that would benefit from national health care reform," Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said in a statement.

The governors want to provide information on advantages the plan would provide for their states, including financial benefits from reducing the number of uninsured individuals, according to a motion filed on Wednesday.

"The individual mandate is an issue of personal responsibility," said Washington's insurance commissioner, Mike Kreidler. "It prevents people from shifting the cost of their medical care onto others. It's a cornerstone for making the new reforms work."

The states' legal challenges will likely fail unless the Supreme Court takes a radical turn in interpreting the Constitution, according to an Urban Institute report issued this week. The arguments they present, though, could still blunt the law's impact, the report said.

"The other vulnerability is that the opponents' passionate legal arguments will encourage noncompliance with the individual mandate and blunt PPACA's practical enforcement," Randall Bovbjerg, an associate at the left-leaning policy research group, wrote in the report.

STATES FIND OTHER WAYS TO BLUNT THE IMPACT

States can also opt out of participating in many of the reforms, which are expected to expand health insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans over the next few years.

Earlier this week, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said his state would not take part in an early expansion of Medicaid, a healthcare program for the poor.

On Monday, states were required to decide whether to initiate their own temporary high-risk pools or leave the task to the federal government. The pools provide health coverage through 2014 to people with pre-existing conditions who have been uninsured for half a year.

Eighteen states, most of them with Republican governors, declined to launch their own pools, while two states, Texas and Utah, are undecided.

The group of four governors will need special permission to join the case, since a U.S. district judge ruled that friend of the court filings would be barred. Their request was filed on Wednesday afternoon.

(Reporting by Jon Lentz; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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