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Parnell: Alaska won't take federal health reform dollars

Governor tells Juneau chamber accepting money would violate court ruling

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2011

Gov. Sean Parnell is resisting the federal health care reform, and reacting angrily to lawmakers who say he should be accepting money to develop a state exchange to help consumers find insurance.

MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

Parnell announced Thursday that Alaska would not be applying for federal grants to implement health care exchanges, one aspect of the sweeping health care reform adopted by U.S. Congress at the urging of President Obama.

Most other states are violating a federal judge’s ruling by taking the money, he said.

Parnell’s decision not to seek the money, with Alaska being the only state not to do so, has come under criticism from legislators who support health care reform.

Parnell told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce that it was his legislative critics who were in the wrong and that he was complying with a federal judge’s ruling in Florida that called the health care reform law unconstitutional.

“Three of them who are lawyers who know better urged me to violate the court ruling, which is effectively an injunction,” Parnell said.

Parnell, who is also a lawyer, consulted with Alaska Attorney General John Burns about his decision. Burns did not provide a written opinion, said Sharon Leighow, spokesperson for the governor.

Parnell acknowledged that the other states, including Florida, which led the legal challenge, were going ahead and accepting the exchange money.

Under the health care reform law, if Alaska doesn’t create its own exchange, the federal government will create one for Alaskans.

Alaska would have been eligible for $1 million for developing the exchange.

Parnell said that Alaska waited for a court ruling on the law’s constitutionality, while the other states eagerly sought the exchange money.

“I waited to make a decision while Florida and the other states leapt early at the bait of federal funds,” he said.

Alaska will go ahead and develop an exchange on its own, Parnell said, but will pay for it themselves.

Because Alaska’s not taking federal money, it won’t have to abide by strings that come with the money he said.

“The result is that Alaska now swims freer of federal entanglements than these other states,” he said.

Parnell’s anti-health care reform stance was cheered by the chamber members, but was criticized by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

French, a lawyer, was among seven Democratic senators, including Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, who sent Parnell a letter Wednesday urging that he accept the grant.

He said Parnell is misreading the Florida case, and that the judge there declined to impose an injunction and has acknowledged that the final decision on health care reform will come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In my view when he declined to issue an injunction, he tipped his hand,” said French, That means the law is still on the books and in force, he said. The U.S. Department of Justice is appealing the decision.

French said he was waiting to see if Parnell would introduce legislation creating the exchanges.

“I find if fascinating that the governor is fighting the conservative solution to health care problems,” French said.

The health care exchanges, allowing children to stay on parent’s insurance to age 26, and new limits on denials for pre-existing conditions are all part of a health care bill done instead of universal health care he said.

Leighow did not say what other actions Alaska might take to resist implementation of health care reform.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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