Cuccinelli goes alone on health care lawsuit

Politics,Local,Congress,Virginia,William C. Flook

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed a lawsuit Tuesday against President Obama's nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul, challenging the individual insurance requirement as an overreach of federal power.

Cuccinelli, a Republican, filed suit in U.S. District Court within minutes of Obama signing the bill at a ceremony attended by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, underscoring the neighboring states' divergent views on the Democratic health legislation.

Virginia's top lawyer stood apart from another legal challenge from 13 states led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. Cuccinelli did not accept an invitation to join that effort, said McCollum spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins.

The thrust of both lawsuits is the same: The federal government lacks the constitutional authority to force its citizens to buy health care. The individual mandate — which will penalize those who go without coverage by 2014 — is a key provision in the law.

"I think there's a serious argument that the individual mandate is not authorized by the Constitution," said Nelson Lund, a professor of constitutional law at George Mason University School of Law.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — who is backing Cuccinelli's suit — argues the state will be saddled with $1.1 billion in new Medicaid costs by 2022, while the O'Malley administration estimates the measure will save $1 billion over the next decade by paying for programs now subsidized by the state.

The Maryland governor plans to issue an executive order this week creating a commission to "effectively and efficiently implement the legislation," said O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec. Among the savings for Maryland, the federal government will take over bridging the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage known as the "doughnut hole."

Opinion on Obamacare lawsuits:

A Rasmussen Reports poll found that 49 percent of voters favor their state suing to block the individual mandate, while 37 percent disagree. Among other findings:

»  72 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents back the challenges, while 65 percent of Democrats oppose.

»  50 percent say states should be able to opt out of specific provisions of the health care overhaul, with 33 percent opposed.

Virginia has been at the center of the national health care debate since McDonnell won election as governor campaigning against a federal expansion of health care. The General Assembly passed bills seeking to exempt the state from the insurance mandate.

Cuccinelli didn't join the other states because "we have a different standing," in that "federal law directly conflicts with our law," spokesman Brian Gottstein said.

In the suit, Cuccinelli argues that Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce under the Constitution falls short of mandating health insurance.

Critics charge the attorney general is wasting taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit with little realistic chance of survival, based on a state measure that is already trumped by federal law.

Hayley Peterson contributed to this article.


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