Friday, April 2, 2010 | 3 a.m.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has wisely resisted partisan demands that the state immediately sue the federal government over the new law overhauling the U.S. health care system.
Gov. Jim Gibbons and his Republican primary election opponents, Mike Montandon and Brian Sandoval, want the state to join as a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits filed by 15 other states last month.
Critics say the legislation requiring Americans to be insured or buy insurance and reforming health insurance industry practices is unconstitutional because it infringes on the sovereignty rights of the states in violation of the 10th Amendment and violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.
“It has never been held that the commerce clause (of the Constitution) … can be used to require citizens to buy goods and services,” a suit filed by Virginia says.
“There is no question that the recently passed health care act eviscerates the interests of the state,” Gibbons wrote.
“I see the constitutional question created by the health care bill as monumental in all future matters involving states’ rights,” said Sandoval, a former attorney general and federal judge.
The lawsuits, filed shortly after President Barack Obama signed the bill into law March 23, were filed by 14 Republican attorneys general. A 15th plaintiff, Louisiana, joined at the request of its Republican governor.
The problem with these lawsuits is threefold.
First, they’re obviously driven by partisan politics. Eleven of the suing attorneys general are on the ballot this year — four are running for governor and seven are seeking re-election. Republican congressmen have been sending letters to their state attorneys general urging participation in the litigation.
Second, the argument that the federal government is overstepping its bounds in the health care arena is ridiculous given that it is already the largest payer of health care services — ironically thanks to Republicans themselves.
Consider these facts:
• Medicare and Medicaid covered 35 percent of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care in the United States in 2008.
• Medicare spending grew 8.6 percent in 2008 to $469.2 billion.
• Medicaid spending grew 4.7 percent in 2008 to $344.3 billion.
• The president in 2008 who oversaw this spending increase was, of course, Republican George W. Bush.
States can’t on the one hand accept the benefits of federal health care spending and then legitimately claim that the federal government is playing too large a role in the health care sector.
The third problem with the lawsuits is that, according to experts, they simply lack legal merit.
University of Miami constitutional law scholar Donald Jones calls the act “almost undoubtedly constitutional” and predicts it will survive efforts to overthrow it.
Jones told the Miami Herald that decades of Medicare and Medicaid legislation show that health care insurance issues have been a long and abiding interest of the federal government.
Jones also said the federal government’s “broad power to regulate commerce” would support the reform bill.
The legislation is of crucial importance to Nevada, where the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada estimates 400,000 men, women and children lack insurance coverage. With unemployment running at 13.2 percent statewide, hundreds of thousands of Nevadans lack both employer-provided insurance and the means to buy insurance privately.
Other measures in the bill allow young people up to 26 years to be covered by parental insurance policies, eliminate lifetime and annual caps on coverage, eliminate rescissions of coverage for policyholders who get sick, provide overall for lower costs and help employers not offering coverage to begin to do so.
Gibbons’ opposition to the bill is not surprising given his lack of leadership in ensuring basic state services are maintained during these times when the need is greater than ever for those services. Having done nothing to bring jobs and affordable health care to Nevada, Gibbons’ demands must be dismissed as a misguided effort to waste scarce state tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit.