Federal judge clears way, briefly, for Alaska health reform

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2011

A Florida district court judge Thursday temporarily suspended his ruling blocking federal health care reform, clearing the way for Alaska to begin implementing the reforms over the objection of Gov. Sean Parnell.

“What this means for Alaska is that our administration will treat the federal health care law as being in place,” Parnell said in a statement issued later Thursday.

It’s not yet clear what that means, and Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow provided no information about how the law, fully in effect in Alaska, would be implemented.

A Parnell opponent in the Alaska Legislature — and in the 2010 gubernatorial race — however, called upon Parnell to implement the law. That follows a legislative legal analysis questioning Parnell’s decision to oppose the law based on the earlier Florida ruling.

Those actions “leave Governor Parnell with no choice but to comply with the health care reform law passed by Congress last year,” said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage.

Parnell has spoken out strongly against the law, but so far the only public action he has said the state will take in opposition is to not apply for an optional $1 million federal grant to develop an online health care exchange.

Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson of Florida had earlier issued a decision calling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and invalidating it in its entirety, but did not issue an injunction blocking its implementation.

At the request of the Obama administration to “clarify” his ruling, Vinson Thursday issued a stay on his order for seven days to give the administration time to appeal, and urged it to do so promptly.

“I particularly appreciate Judge Vinson’s request that appeals be fast-tracked so our state can move forward with certainty,” Parnell’s statement said.

Alaska is a party to the Florida case.

Parnell has said because Vinson has determined that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, he might be in violation of is oath of office if he were to implement it.

Parnell’s statement did not make clear what he thought Vinson’s ruling, or his stay of his ruling, would mean.

“Going forward, Alaska will make decisions on a case-by-case basis whether the state will undertake with our own money or with federal funding how to implement the provisions of the law,” he said.

French said Parnell needs to now find a way to help the 115,000 Alaskans who do not have health insurance.

“The governor can no longer evade the issue,” he said.

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

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