Civil and Human Rights

7 state senators sign on to defend federal health reform


Democratic state Sen. Karen Keiser has joined a coalition of 71 lawmakers from around the country who are submitting a legal brief Friday in support of the federal health-care reform. That puts Keiser, a state-level health reformer with roots in the labor movement, smack-dab opposite Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna and other Republicans around the country who are trying to overturn the reform in court.

Keiser is one of seven Washington Democratic senators who have signed on.Here is a link to the motion from attorney Elizabeth Wydra and Douglas Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center requesting the right to submit an amicus brief on behalf of lawmakers.

Wydra told a teleconference sponsored by the Progressive States Network today in Washington, D.C., that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act actually supports state rights under federalism and that many states are trying to move ahead on health-care with the help of the reform.

Her Nov. 10 motion to the U.S. District Court in Florida says that participating lawmakers “believe the Act is consistent with the principles of federalism reflected in our Constitution and in the best interest of the people they were elected to represent.”

Florida AG Bill McCollum filed the federal suit on March 23 challenging requirements that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty; he also is challenging the law as an infringement on the states, which have to pay a share of the cost for expanding Medicaid eligibility under the act.

Keiser joined the teleconference and said Gov. Chris Gregoire already is party to a separate legal action countering the claim that the reform act is coercive to the states. Keiser said she and state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, have asked McKenna to withdraw from the suit and said she doesn’t believe he has authority to pursue the issue, which he is doing over the objections of the governor and legislative leaders.

She called McKenna’s action “perplexing and unbelievable” and said lawmakers “will continue to push forward” to implement federal reform at the state level.

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman of Texas said his state is considering opting out of Medicaid altogether. He suggested that undercuts the idea that states are being coerced by the federal act without having options. Coleman said he hopes his state does not take that step, however, because it has 6 million uninsured people, the highest number of any state and millions of them are children. He believes reform will expand coverage.

Washington lawmakers listed as signing on to the suit are Keiser, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and fellow Democratic Sens. Maralyn Chase of Shoreline, Steve Conway of Tacoma, Adam Kline of Seattle, Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle and Phil Rockefeller of Kitsap County.

Here is a link to a post on The Hill’s HealthWatch blog that says six top national health systems and hospitals have asked to file a brief against the lawsuit.

The report says the health groups include “the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.”

McKenna has said frequently he sees no need to withdraw from the suit believing he has authority to defend the state and that there is a good argument to be decided by the courts. McKenna has argued the federal reform creates a mandate for the state to spend additional funds.

Here is Washington’s state website on national health-care reform. Here is McKenna’s website on the reform lawsuit and here is a news release explaining his position.

To read this article online, click here.


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