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Legal analysis challenges Parnell's view on health care reform

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2011

A legislative legal analysis is challenging Gov. Sean Parnell’s contention that Alaska is bound by a Florida court ruling that found the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, and calls the governor’s view “implausible.”

A leading legislative supporter of health care reform is challenging Parnell to either implement the act or to propose his own response to the state’s health care problems.

“If we’re going to resist this act, put a solution on the table to do something about the thousands and thousands of Alaskans who do not have a health insurance policy today,” said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who requested the analysis.

French challenged Parnell for the governor’s seat in 2010.

Parnell has said he believes Alaska is bound by the Florida case because Alaska joined Florida and others in the challenge to the health care reform, passed last year.

Legislative Counsel Dennis Bailey disputed that, and noted the case is expected to be decided by the nation’s highest court.

“The decision of a federal district court does not establish legal precedent, although decisions of an appeals court may establish broader legal precedent and a decision of the United States Supreme Court has national effect,” Bailey wrote.

“What he said is what we all know,” French said, and the high court will eventually decide the issue.

“Until then the affordable care act is the law of the land,” French said.

It’s not clear whether Parnell, a lawyer, is relying on legal advice or his own analysis.

Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow said there is no written legal opinion from Attorney General John Burns, but “not all legal advice comes in the form of an AG opinion.”

When Parnell first announced he would resist implementing health care reform in Alaska, he said he was seeking legal advice from Burns on whether implementing the law would put him in violation of his oath of office.

“I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Parnell said in February when he announced his opposition to the law.

It’s not clear yet what Parnell’s opposition will entail. The only concrete action he has so far announced is declining to apply for federal funding to develop an Alaska health care exchange, but has said Alaska will explore creation of such an exchange on its own.

French, also an attorney, said on the floor of the Senate this week the part of health care reform the Florida judge found unconstitutional was the individual mandate, but that he expected that to be upheld on appeal.

The affordable care act is really a package of insurance reforms, he said, but the individual mandate is crucial to its success or many people will not buy health care and shift the cost of their care to others.

“If you try to reform insurance without the individual mandate, you fail,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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