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Harris joins other states in supporting health reform law

Flickr photo by asilvaAttorney General Kamala Harris: 'At some point in everyone's life ... we all require health care.'

Attorney General Kamala Harris joined forces today with eight other Democratic attorney generals who plan to back the White House in upholding the federal health reform law, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.

Harris and the other top law enforcement officials from New York, Oregon, Maryland and other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief in one of several cases that challenge the "individual mandate" in the health reform law requiring all adults to buy health insurance. The logic is that if millions of healthy people are paying into the pool, the cost of covering hundreds of very sick people is easier to bear.

Under the current system, insurance companies routinely refuse to cover people with "pre-existing conditions," knowing that the costs will be high. The federal health reform law requires insurers to cover all people, and insurers have argued that the only way to make it work is to make everyone pay.

The notion of spreading the burden of paying for health care across the entire population came from the right side of the political spectrum, as NPR reported last year.

But now the GOP is launching challenges in multiple courts over the requirement to buy insurance, calling it an affront to individual liberty.

"The irresolvable dilemmas posed by the individual and employer mandates coupled with the unprecedented expansion of the Commerce Clause to forcibly reverse personal decisions to not participate in commerce create real and substantial threats not only to Plaintiffs' constitutional rights, but to the liberty of all Americans," Mathew D. Staver, Dean of Liberty University School of Law, wrote in a brief appealing one legal challenge in Virginia.

 

Harris spoke today in a conference call with other attorneys general, saying it is her duty to protect the health and safety of Californians - including the eight million who have no health insurance coverage.

"The bottom line is undeniable," Harris said. ""

Harris and the other attorneys general filed a brief in a Michigan case filed by the conservative Thomas More Law Center. In it, California plays a starring role. The brief argues that states have tried and failed to fix problems in their states, and now rely on the federal government to broaden health insurance coverage.

The brief notes that nearly one in four Californians younger than 65 lacked health coverage for all or part of 2009. And that rate represents a 28 percent increase over the 2007 number. Also:

Moreover, over 5.5 million Californians were enrolled in Medi-Cal or California's Healthy Families program during 2009. Providing health care benefits to these Californians who have been otherwise uninsured comes at a considerable cost to the state. The proposed budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year includes $83.5 billion in spending on Health and Human Services, close to 50 percent of which will go to Medi-Cal alone. Of those funds, $27.1 billion comes from the General Fund, which is facing a $25 billion deficit.

The Michigan case, like the others challenging the health reform law, raises the question of whether the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to force people to buy health insurance.

So far, that case has gone in favor of upholding the health reform law. A Michigan judge ruled that neglecting to buy insurance drives up all health costs and impacts interstate commerce.

The case has been appealed, though, and the Democratic attorneys general are weighing in to support the initial ruling.

The Democratic attorneys general said they plan to file briefs on cases at the circuit court level. Many observers expect the final decision to fall to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There, Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the swing vote. But, as Newsweek notes, other justices who are critical of "legislating from the bench" may also be inclined to stick to those principals and let the Congressional vote in favor of health reform stand.

 

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