Montana won't join challenge to health-reform bill

2010-03-25T18:09:00Z Montana won't join challenge to health-reform billMIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
March 25, 2010 6:09 pm  • 

HELENA — Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said Thursday he won’t be joining a dozen other attorneys general suing to challenge the new federal health-reform bill as unconstitutional.

In an e-mail replying to a pro-business group that requested he join the lawsuit, Bullock said his office has concluded it’s “highly unlikely (the bill) will be found unconstitutional.”

“People can certainly disagree over whether the health care legislation is good policy,” he wrote to the Montana Growth Network. “That does not mean, however, that the state of Montana should spend taxpayer money to file a lawsuit that we do not believe has legal merit.”

Attorneys general from 13 states — all but one of them Republicans — filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Florida, saying the new law violates the U.S. Constitution by requiring people to buy health insurance as of 2014. Bullock is a Democrat.

The state of Virginia filed its own lawsuit, and other states are considering joining the action. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Wednesday that Wyoming will not be joining the lawsuit, but he said he wouldn’t rule it out in the future.

The Montana Growth Network, based in Red Lodge, is a nonpartisan group that says it prefers states to address public problems, rather than the federal government, and that “reform” means government providing better service without spending more money.

Jason Priest, executive director of the network, said Thursday that “the hard work on preparing the lawsuit” had been done by others and it wouldn’t cost Montana much to join it.

“It’s a chance to fight for jobs and protect the insurance plans that workers already have in the state,” he said, arguing that the federal reform bill will drive up the cost of health insurance for those who have it.

Those who don’t qualify for subsidies in the bill to help them buy health insurance will end up paying more, Priest said. The subsidies don’t kick in until 2014.

Bullock said the “vast majority” of legal scholars who have reviewed the issue said the lawsuit is not likely to succeed.

“The courts will have the opportunity to judge the merits of the challenges to the health care legislation without the involvement of Montana,” he said. “If we are correct and the courts reject the challenges, we will have saved valuable Montana taxpayer resources.

“In the unlikely event that the courts declare the legislation unconstitutional, their decision will apply to all Americans, including all Montanans, even though we weren’t a party to the lawsuit.”

Bullock spokesman Kevin O’Brien also said this week that the lawsuits “are more about politics than the law.”

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