Alaska

This article is part of the State Status and News series related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The state House Judiciary Committee is challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care reform law. The committee chair introduced a bill called the “Alaska Health Freedom Act” at the request of Palmer Republican Rep. Carl Gatto.

The legislation is modeled on similar bills throughout the country and instructs the attorney general to sue if Alaskans are penalized for not following mandates of the federal law. “Few individual rights are more fundamental than the right to determine one's personal health and finances,” Gatto said.

But House Bill 423 has been introduced with little more than two weeks remaining before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

There seems to be limited desire to dive into the complex and contentious health care issue, particularly among members of the state Senate. Senate President Gary Stevens said the Senate is focused on passing the budget, and dealing with oil and gas and other issues before the April 18 adjournment.

“An issue like this at the last minute is unlikely to get traction (in the Senate) if it can even make it out of the House,” said Stevens, a Kodiak Republican.

Cockerham, Sean. “Federal health care law challenged by Alaska House committee”. Anchorage Daily News. April 2, 2010. Available online as of 2010-04-08.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell announced Tuesday that Alaska will join 20 other states in challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform bill. Attorney General Dan Sullivan also released a legal memo in which he analyzes the relevant legal issues and recommends the constitutional challenge.

“With the enactment of health care legislation, the federal government has reached well beyond the scope of its authority – into the lives and freedom of Alaskans,” Parnell said. “This case is ultimately about the extent to which the federal government can exert power over the states. It has critical implications for the liberty interests of all American citizens. Alaska must join this important litigation.”

“The individual mandate is an unprecedented federal action,” Sullivan said. “Never before has the federal government required people to buy a good or service as a condition of being a lawful resident in the United States. The authority to require American citizens to comply with this mandate should be challenged as beyond the scope of Congress' Commerce Clause powers as enumerated in Article I of the Constitution. By joining this suit, we are defending the bedrock constitutional principles of federalism, limited government, and individual liberty.”

Alaska Democrats responded by distributing a February 2010 Kaiser Health News article comparing the final health care bill to a 1993 proposal brought by Senate Republicans – including co-sponsor then-Sen. Ted Stevens.

Read the full story here: Parnell announces state will sue over health care reform

Saul, Joshua. “Alaska to challenge national health care bill” Alaska Dispatch. April 20, 2010. Available online as of 2010-04-20. Hyperlinks in original.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced on Tuesday that the State of Alaska would join a lawsuit brought by at least 19 other states challenging the constitutionality of federal health care reform legislation.

Parnell made the long-expected announcement with state Attorney General Dan Sullivan at a press conference in Juneau.

[…]

Parnell says he believes forcing every American to pay for health insurance is unconstitutional. Several weeks ago, that led Parnell to ask Sullivan and the state Department of Law to review the legislation.

The memo recommends the state join the lawsuit initially brought by Florida's attorney general. Parnell waived his attorney-client privilege to allow the findings to be released.

Parnell said the bill challenges the freedom of Americans, and that it is an unprecedented mandate by the federal government.

“With the enactment of healthcare legislation, the federal government has reached well beyond the scope of its authority. It's reached into the lives and freedom of Alaskans,” Parnell said.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted against the legislation, said she is pleased to see Alaska join other states in challenging the legislation.

“As a state that recognizes that sometimes there are federal mandates that are imposed on the states that go beyond the Constitutional limits, when the states feel that that point has been reached, it's appropriate to join the litigation,” Murkowski said.

[…]

Parnell defended his decision: “Alaskans should understand this is not really about health care, in fact, whether you support free-market healthcare policies or universal coverage, you should lay that fight down for the moment and join together in what really is a battle for freedom.”

Tipton, Lori. “Alaska joins lawsuit over health care reform bill”. KTUU-TV (NBC). April 20, 2010, 5:05 PM EDT. Available online as of 2010-04-21. Emphasis added.