New Idaho Law Would Allow AG to Sue Feds if Health Reform Passes

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , March 18, 2010

Idaho has become the first state to implement a law that would require the state's attorney general to sue the federal government if Congress passes the current health reform legislation.

At issue is whether the federal government can mandate coverage for individuals and businesses.

In signing the bill, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter was quoted as saying he was "comfortable" with paying if necessary for court costs associated with the lawsuit that could run as high as $100,000. Legal experts, however, have predicted that Idaho's actions would likely be struck down in the courts as a state's rights case.

However, at least three dozen other states have similar legislation pending. The first state to pass legislation opposing mandated coverage earlier this month—Virginia—is also preparing to go to court as well.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II confirmed that the state will file suit if the reform bill is approved. Yesterday, Cuccinelli wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that said the "deem and pass" procedure now under consideration to approve the Senate healthcare reform bill in the House would open the measure to more constitutional challenges from the states.

"Such a course of action would raise grave constitutional questions," Cuccinelli wrote.

Using "deem and pass" might "somehow shield members of Congress from taking a recorded vote on an overwhelmingly unpopular Senate bill," but this is an improper purpose under the bicameralism requirements," he said. "Our representatives [should be] fully accountable for their votes."

"Should you employ the 'deem and pass' tactic, you expose any act which may pass to yet another constitutional challenge," Cuccinelli said. "A bill of this magnitude should not be passed using this maneuver. As the President noted last week, the American people are entitled to an up or down vote."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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