Federal judge Roger Vinson in Florida put out an order today [March 3] that says states like Washington must carry on their efforts to implement so-called Obamacare health reforms – despite his earlier ruling that Democrats’ national health reform in 2010 was unconstitutional.
The decision comes a day after the state Senate voted 27-to-22 along partisan lines Wednesday to continue reforms by setting up a state benefits exchange through which consumers can buy policies and receive subsidies under federal reforms.
[GOP Sens. Randi Becker of Eatonville and Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley crossed over to vote in favor, with Becker saying recently that Senate Bill 5445 does slow down the state's actions; Democratic Sens. Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Tim Shelton of Potlatch crossed over to vote against.]
Vinson's decision comes just days after Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire filed a legal brief that said a halt in the reforms would be disruptive.
Gregoire and state Republican chairman Kirby Wilbur issued statements today on opposite sides of the matter.
UPDATE with Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna's reaction: McKenna entered the legal fight on the side of Florida and 24 other states that believe the health reform is unconstitutional in requiring consumers to buy insurance from private companies. Today he put out this statement. McKenna noted Vinson's frustration with the Department of Justice's slow handling of the case. McKenna added:
"The federal health care reform law touches every American. Judge Vinson's decision recognizes the urgency in putting this case before the US Supreme Court as soon as possible so we have greater certainty in our efforts to improve access to affordable health care for people and their families without violating their Constitutional rights," McKenna said. "Our nation's highest court should quickly review the individual mandate and provide guidance on how to proceed," he said. "I hope that Governor Gregoire joins me in seeking the quickest end to the constitutional controversy surrounding the law by asking the Department of Justice to immediately seek expedited review."
The state GOP's press release quotes Wilbur and makes this statement:
"In the midst of a legislative session dealing with a budget deficit of $3 billion, why is our Governor wasting her time and our state's resources filing needless court briefings in Florida? Governor Gregoire's brief calls the lawsuit disruptive, and says Attorney General McKenna does not represent the executive branch of Washington state government or the state's leaders who support ObamaCare. "McKenna's lawsuit is not disruptive, ObamaCare is disruptive – to our health care system, the patient-doctor relationship and the Constitution. The Governor would better serve the people of our state by focusing on doing her job reining in out-of-control spending and leading this state out of a massive budget deficit. Instead, she's engaged in an extended try-out for a job with the Obama Administration. If she truly cared about clearing up legal questions about ObamaCare, she would join Attorney General McKenna in calling for DOJ to seek immediate review by the U.S. Supreme Court."Wilbur also pointed out the Attorney General is a separately elected holder of a constitutionally created office that operates independent of the executive and legislative branches of the state. The Washington Supreme Court has said the Attorney General’s “paramount duty is the protection of the interest of the people.”
Here is Gregoire's statement today on the court order:
"Judge Vinson's issuance of a stay on his own ruling is the right decision. This decision allows implementation to go forward while his decision is reviewed. We are confident that in the end the Act will be upheld. As he indicates in his order part of his consideration is that there is disagreement within the plaintiff states, including Washington, as to whether implementation should continue. He is correct that it should as the Affordable Care Act benefits our small businesses, allows children to stay on their parent's health insurance until age 26, provides seniors with prescription drug assistance and prohibits individuals from being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions."The Affordable Care Act is the most important step in achieving affordability and access to health care. In speaking with the President last week, he is committed to working with the states to continue to improve upon the law."
Gregoire's motion to clarify, which asked the judge to stay his ruling, is here.
McKenna joined the federal suit seeking to invalidate portions of the federal reform on grounds a mandate to buy insurance is unconstitutional and that future state costs for Medicaid will explode, placing an unaffordable burden on states. His agency has a web site that has links to many documents in the case.