December 6, 2010

Will Maine join lawsuit against health care reform?

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Maine’s new attorney general believes federal health care reform is unconstitutional, and is weighing whether the state should join a pending lawsuit in Florida that is challenging it on constitutional grounds.

click image to enlarge

Maine's new Attorney General William Schneider, seen here last week when he was elected by the Legislature, says the federal health care law is unconstitutional and that the state may join others in challenging it.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

William Schneider, the Durham Republican elected as attorney general by the Legislature on Wednesday, said in an interview that the Affordable Care Act, signed by President Barack Obama in March, violates the U.S. Constitution by requiring people to buy insurance or face an annual fine of $695.

There are no provisions in the constitution that give the federal government that kind of power, he said.

Designed to help millions of uninsured Americans obtain affordable health care through government-imposed mandates and subsidies, the law is a “noble effort doomed by its failures,” said Schneider, who currently is an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Schneider is also a former Assistant Attorney General and a two-term lawmaker, during which he served as Assistant House Minority Leader.

The Affordable Care Act has also been derisively labeled “Obamacare” by Republicans, who liken it to socialized medicine and warn it will drive up medical costs and burden taxpayers.

About two dozen challenges have been filed in federal courts nationwide.

The lawsuit Maine may join was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida and now has support of 20 states. It’s seen as the Republicans' best chance for success because of the conservative record of the Florida court.

Two other courts — in Michigan and Virginia — have already ruled in favor of the Obama administration.

David Crocker, an attorney at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said he is pleased Maine may become a party in the legal challenge of the health care law.

“This is a fight worth having because it has to do with the sovereignty of states and not surrendering to the will of the federal government,” he said.

Dan Demerrit, spokesman for Gov.-elect Paul LePage, said LePage will talk with Schneider and the Legislature about joining the suit, something the governor-elect supported during the campaign.

Demerrit said joining the case would not be a superfluous gesture.

“You represent 1.3 million people, and if there is a case to be made, you voice your opinion and join that fight,” he said.

For years, Maine has been a leader among states in its work to expand access to health care, said Sara Rosenbaum, chairwoman of the health policy department at George Washington University.
It’s hard to believe that Maine would now join the legal fight against the Affordable Care Act, she said.

“It’s like whiplash,” she said of Maine’s direction on health care, after Republicans gained control of both the state’s Legislature and executive branch in November. “I mean, it’s an astounding turn of events.”

Maine’s opposition to health care form is not confined to Augusta. U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have signed onto an amicus brief — a letter from outside parties meant to asist a court in making a decision — supporting the Florida lawsuit as well.

If the law is overturned, said Rosenbaum, Maine would be especially hurt because it has a large percentage of working families who don’t have health insurance and who would be given access to affordable insurance by the law.

The plaintiffs in the Florida lawsuit claim the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not give the government the authority to force Americans to purchase a commercial product such as health insurance.

However, outgoing Attorney General Janet Mills said she believes the economic cost of uncompensated health care is a hidden tax on businesses and individuals across the country.

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