Maryland leads states backing federal health insurance law

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By Megan Poinski

Attorney General Doug Gansler (Photo by Safe Medicines)

Attorney General Doug Gansler (photo by Safe Medicines)

While attorneys general in Virginia, Florida and a dozen other states have sued to block federal health care reform, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler is leading the charge to support the Affordable Care Act before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Friday afternoon, Gansler filed a friend-of-court brief cosigned by attorneys general from 12 other states and territories supporting the constitutionality of the federal law.

“Health care has probably been the albatross in the system for decades,” Gansler said in a teleconference about the filing. “We need a solution.”

Congress passed the politically charged Affordable Care Act in 2010, and its legality has been questioned by opponents who dubbed it Obamacare. Several lawsuits were filed questioning different aspects of the law. The case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court was initially filed by the state of Florida.

Gansler calls its apolitical

Maryland’s brief only addresses what Gansler called an apolitical issue: Whether the federal government has the ability to require that people either have health insurance or pay a fee.

Gansler said that it can – especially since it already requires people to contribute to Social Security, register for the draft and serve in the military, and file taxes. It does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s “commerce clause” – which allows the federal government to regulate interstate commerce – because problems caused by people who do not have health insurance impact everyone in every state.

According to statistics included in the brief, health care accounted for almost 18% of the entire U.S. economy in 2009. In the same year, there were almost 49 million Americans without health insurance.

“Though state governments and private actors have taken important and innovative steps to expand access to health care and to restrain the growth of health care costs, no remedy can be fully effective without action on a national level,” the brief states.

The brief also states that the federal government prescribed no method for states to make insurance available to people, allowing each state to establish its own policies.

Attorneys general from California, Iowa, Oregon and Vermont joined Gansler on the teleconference, each sharing reasons for supporting the brief. Oregon Attorney General Tom Kroger said that the question is really who pays for health care. People without insurance who need acute care can go to hospital emergency rooms and receive it – but the high cost of that care is then paid by the taxpayers.

“There is no freedom to freeload,” Kroger said. “People have no right to shift their health care costs onto everyone else.”

Democratic AGs in support

Every jurisdiction supporting Maryland’s brief – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands – has a Democrat attorney general. Gansler said that Republican attorneys general are more than welcome to sign on to the brief.

Most states led by Republicans have actively opposed the law. Florida is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, jointly filed with South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho and South Dakota.

Additionally, Virginia filed its own lawsuit challenging the health insurance law. The first federal judge who heard the case sided with the state and declared the law unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the case, and it was dismissed by the appellate judges in September.