Missouri's Democratic AG splits with Obama over health care

KANSAS CITY Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:11pm EDT

President Barack Obama speaks about healthcare reform, surrounded by health care personnel, from the East Room of the White House in Washington March 3, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama speaks about healthcare reform, surrounded by health care personnel, from the East Room of the White House in Washington March 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - Missouri's Democratic attorney general on Monday joined the largely Republican-led effort to have President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul ruled unconstitutional.

Chris Koster, a former Republican legislator who switched parties when he ran for attorney general, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appeals panel hearing a closely watched challenge to the health care law filed by Florida and more than two dozen other states.

Koster's action does not mean Missouri has formally joined that lawsuit, which claims Obama and Congress overreached by imposing minimum coverage requirements on individuals.

Indeed, in a letter to top state legislative leaders, Koster said his brief was "not based on any opposition to the expansion of health care coverage for uninsured Americans. To the contrary, I favor the expansion of health coverage."

But Koster argues -- as many health care opponents have -- that the law's requirement that every person purchase health insurance from a private company or face a penalty is unconstitutional.

He contends the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not give Congress federal police powers to compel individual citizens who "are not actors in interstate commerce and who have not chosen to enter the stream of commerce to obtain health insurance."

His filing provides legal support to the plaintiffs, which include the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- nearly all Republicans.

Earlier this year, both houses of the Missouri legislature passed non-binding resolutions calling on Koster to challenge last year's health care overhaul, the so-called Affordable CareAct, and the state's Republican lieutenant governor has filed his own lawsuit against the measure.

Last August, Missouri voters passed a referendum that prohibits compelling "any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any health care system" -- an effort to block the implementation of the law inside their state.

The proposition, the first statewide referendum on the new health care law, was put on the ballot by an overwhelming vote of the Republican-controlled state Senate and House. It was approved by 71 percent of the voters.

Supporters of the measure said it promoted individual free choice while opponents, including the Missouri Hospital Association, portrayed it as symbolic in nature and said it would not hold up in court.

A call to Koster's office was not immediately returned Monday.

(Additional reporting by James B. Kelleher)

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