Alaska Governor Refusing to Enact Health Care Law

February 17, 2011 - 6:55 PM

Juneau, Alaska (AP) - Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday that he will not implement the federal health care overhaul passed by Congress last year after a judge in Florida struck down the law as unconstitutional.

It's not immediately clear what practical impact the unusual, rather bold move would have on Alaskans, an estimated 14 percent of whom are uninsured year-round.

A major expansion of the federal law is still pending, and a legal expert and health care consumer advocate say any refusal by the states to participate in the law is an invitation to the federal government to step in and implement it for them - a point Parnell disputes.

The Republican governor, who sought the advice of his attorney general amid concerns implementing the law would violate his oath of office, told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce the state would pursue lawful, market-based solutions to making insurance affordable and accessible to Alaskans.

He said the Florida judge's ruling is the law of the land, as it pertains to Alaska, barring implementation of the federal law here. He said the state will not pursue "unlawful activity" to implement a regime deemed unconstitutional.

He said the state, instead, will pursue options of its own.

Alaska was one of 26 states that were party to the Florida lawsuit; however, in other cases, two federal judges have upheld the law and one judge ruled a provision requiring citizens to buy health insurance or face penalties - a major point of contention in the Florida case - is unconstitutional but did not strike down the rest of the law.

While the ultimate decision is likely to rest with the U.S. Supreme Court, for now, the overhaul is still the law, contends Timothy S. Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

"This is one renegade judge that has reached this decision," he said, calling it an "extremist opinion," likely to be reversed on appeal. In refusing to participate in the law, he said, Alaska "is really the outlier" among states.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said currently states have an "enormous amount of discretion" in how they implement provisions of the law. If the governor refuses to exercise that, the federal government will have the say, he said.

Neither he nor Jost knew of any other state taking action similar to Parnell. Messages to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately returned.

Seven state lawmakers wrote Parnell asking that he apply by a Friday deadline for federal dollars to establish and health insurance exchange, in line with the federal overhaul. Parnell said three of the signatories are lawyers and should "know better," in light of the court ruling.