Florida AG Calls for Legal Review of Mandate in Federal Healthcare Legislation

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , December 30, 2009

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum says his office will conduct a legal review of the healthcare bills in Congress to determine the constitutionality of the individual mandate that makes health insurance a requirement.

McCollum, a former Congressman who is also a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, says he has asked attorneys general in other states to join his review, and he suggested that a court battle would be waged if the reforms as they are now written become law.

"The healthcare legislation moving through Congress is troubling for several reasons including its big government approach, its tremendous cost to taxpayers, and ultimately its mandates on Floridians," McCollum said. "Most concerning is the individual mandate that a person must pay a fine or tax if he or she does not obtain federally required health care insurance."

"I have grave concerns about the constitutionality of this mandate. Such a 'living tax' is worrisome because it would be levied on a person who does nothing, a person who simply wishes not to be forced to buy health insurance coverage," McCollum said. "The mandate is especially troubling to Floridians who are guaranteed through the Florida Constitution to have 'the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into [their] private life.'"

McCollum says his legal review will focus on the possible violations of the Commerce Clause and Taxing Power in the U.S. Constitution.

McCollum already is among at least 10 of 19 Republican attorneys general who are evaluating the constitutionality of the Senate bill provision that provides 100% federal Medicaid funding for Nebraska, without similar funding going to states like Florida. The funding windfall was demanded by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE, to win his support for the Senate bill.

Democrats dismissed McCollum's review as political theater. "McCollum's argument is not just silly, it's insulting to the people of Florida given his record of trying to dismantle Social Security and Medicare every chance he could get," said Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party spokesman. "Under McCollum's flawed logic, Americans are "forced" to have Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from their paychecks. Is McCollum declaring Social Security and Medicare 'unconstitutional?' Is that why he devoted so much of his Congressional career to undercutting them?"

At a media availability Tuesday, McCollum rejected those suggestions.

"I'm not opposed to healthcare reform as such though I'm not happy with this particular bill, and I want to be constructive about it," he said. "On the other hand if they want to pass a bill that contains flawed provisions that impose this type of individual mandate, I think there has to be a serious look as to whether the states join together to protect our citizens and challenge the constitutionality of such a provision."

McCollum also dismissed suggestions that his review was a campaign publicity stunt designed to show his opposition to a bill that the GOP primary voter base loathes.

"You can look at this any way you want to," he said. "I'm looking at this as the attorney general of the state of Florida. I would be doing this whether I were running for governor or not," he said.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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