By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: The Las Vegas attorney representing Nevada in the 26-state challenge to the new federal health care law says the case is critically important because of the mandate for people to purchase health insurance.
“Never before in our nation’s history has the federal government required its citizens to purchase a product or service as a condition of citizenship in this country,” said Mark Hutchison, who is representing Nevada without charge in the case. “This case is of high importance to all Nevadans, because if the federal government can require us to purchase health insurance, then they can require us to purchase anything they choose.”
Hutchison, in a statement issued Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, said the initial written briefs are due Dec. 29. Oral arguments are expected to be in March. The court will issue a decision in the case before its term expires at the end of June 2012.
First appointed by Gov. Jim Gibbons, and then re-affirmed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, Hutchison was named to serve as lead special counsel for the state when Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto declined to represent the state in the federal litigation.
In addition to the 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is a party to the challenge.
Randi Thompson, Nevada state director for the NFIB, said in a statement Monday: “This act is already increasing the cost of health care on Nevadans, increasing costs to Nevada taxpayers for Medicaid and Medicare coverage, and causing business owners to even drop coverage for their employees. Health care needs to be more accessible and affordable, but this act is not the way to reach that goal.”
Others also weighed in on the decision.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer issued this statement: “Earlier this year, the Obama Administration asked the Supreme Court to consider legal challenges to the health reform law and we are pleased the court has agreed to hear this case.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one million more young Americans have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventive services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket and insurance companies have to spend more of your premiums on health care instead of advertising and bonuses. We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in a statement: “Nevada families and businesses are already struggling in this current economic environment, and the president’s job killing health care law is making a difficult situation worse. The law’s excessive taxes, expensive regulations and questionable constitutionality are stripping businesses of the certainty they need to hire at a time when Nevadans and the rest of the country are desperate for jobs.
“While the Supreme Court considers this case, the president should work with Congress to find real solutions to health care reform so the excessive mandates in this law do not add to our national debt or hurt our struggling economy,” he said.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement: “Families, seniors and small businesses in Nevada and across the country are reaping the benefits of health insurance reform. Prescription drug costs for seniors are falling as the Medicare ‘donut hole’ closes, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and business owners are taking advantage of tax breaks.
“Just last week, a conservative judge appointed by President Reagan ruled that this legislation is constitutional, and I am confident the high court will do the same,” he said.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said in a statement: “I believe that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and it is my hope that the Supreme Court will overturn it. Already, during my short time in Congress, I voted to repeal a provision of the president’s health care law that raised eligibility for Medicaid far beyond the intended poverty level. This correction is estimated to save taxpayers at least $13 billion over 10 years.
“I eagerly await the court’s decision and from there we’ll be able to assess the path for repealing what amounts to government control of 16 percent of our economy,” he said.
A number of federal courts have weighed in on the law with sometimes contradictory rulings on the constitutionality of the law and the individual mandate. President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided to use the case filed by the states, including Nevada, and the NFIB, to determine the constitutionality of the law.
Nevada and the other states challenged the law in federal court in the Northern District of Florida. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled in the states’ favor and declared the individual mandate in the federal health care law unconstitutional. He declared the entire law unconstitutional without the mandate.
The 11th U.S. District Court Appeals then upheld Vinson’s ruling on the individual mandate but said the rest of the law could stand.
The U.S. Supreme Court will now take up the issues of whether the individual mandate is constitutional and whether the entire law is unconstitutional if the individual mandate is unlawful.
The individual mandate requires all U.S. citizens and residents to purchase health insurance from a private company or face government-imposed penalties enforced by the Internal Revenue Service.
“We are pleased that the highest court in the country will make a final decision about the constitutional fate of the healthcare legislation,” Hutchison said. “The states are confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will determine that the law is unconstitutional.”