Alaska Governor Says He Won’t Comply With Federal Health Care Law
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell says he won't comply with any of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but his decision seems to rest of precarious legal ground.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell says he will not act to implement any of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act:
JUNEAU, Alaska —Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said he won’t implement the federal health-care overhaul after a judge in Florida struck down the law as unconstitutional.
It’s not immediately clear what practical impact the unusual move would have on Alaskans, an estimated 14% of which are uninsured year-round. A major expansion of the federal law is still pending, and a legal expert and health-care consumer advocate say any refusal by the states to participate in the law is an invitation to the federal government to step in and implement it for them.
Mr. Parnell, who sought the advice of his attorney general amid concerns implementing the law would violate his oath of office, told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce the state would pursue lawful, market-based solutions to making insurance affordable and accessible to Alaskans.
He said the Florida judge’s ruling is the law of the land, as it pertains to Alaska, barring implementation of the federal law here. He said the state will pursue options of its own instead.
Alaska was one of 26 states that were party to the Florida lawsuit; however, in other cases, two federal judges have upheld the law and one judge ruled a provision requiring citizens to buy health insurance or face penalties—a major point of contention in the Florida case—is unconstitutional but did not strike down the rest of the law.
The fact that Parnell is basing his position on Judge Vinson’s decision is interesting for a few reasons. For one, it’s inevitable that when this case is formally appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that a stay will be issued to bar the legal effect of the District Court ruling. Will Parnell reverse himself at that point and agree to implement the law? Or, what if the 11th Circuit reverses Judge Vinson’s ruling. what will Parnell do then?
A second point worth keeping in mind is that Judge Vinson’s ruling did not include any injunction barring implementation of the act. Some have argued, and Vinson alluded to this in his opinion, that the fact that the entire law was declared unconstitutional means that no injunction is necessary. That is by no means clear as a matter of law, however, and it’s the reason that the Federal Government has asked Judge Vinson to clarify his ruling:
The Obama administration is asking a federal judge who struck down the healthcare reform law to clarify that states must still implement the overhaul as the appeals process plays out.
Some states are saying the Jan. 31 ruling relieves them from implementing the sweeping reform law because the federal judge in Florida found it to be unconstitutional.
The Obama administration, in a Thursday evening filing in a Northern Florida federal court, is asking the court to clarify that the 26 states who successfully challenged the law are still required to comply with it.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the law’s requirement for individuals to purchase insurance is unconstitutional, and therefore, the rest of the law is unconstitutional because the provision is too central to making the law function. The administration points out that the so-called individual mandate does not go into effect until 2014, while other parts of the law have already gone into effect.
“[A] contrary understanding would threaten serious harm to many Americans currently benefiting from provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are already in effect and would significantly interfere with defendants’ statutory duty to implement the Act as Congress directed,” the Justice Department wrote in its court filing.
Judge Vinson has already issued a ruling giving the states involved in the lawsuit until Thursday to respond to the Federal Government’s motion. Essentially what the Feds are asking Vinson to do here is to define the scope of the legal effect he intended his ruling to have, which is important in determining what kind of stay would have to be applied for at the appellate level. The point that makes this relevant to Parnell’s position is that, at the moment, it is by no means clear that the January ruling provides any legal basis upon which he or any other governor can essentially ignore Federal Law. Hopefully, Judge Vinson will make that clear in his next ruling.
Finally, there’s something slightly disconcerting about a Governor essentially saying he’s going to ignore Federal law. It’s essentially a form of nullification and. as I’ve argued before, there is no legal or historical basis for the idea that the states have the authority to nullify Federal law. Parnell is walking a dangerous road here and he should be careful where he treads.