John Kroger (D)
Ted Kulongoski (D)SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon Attorney General John Kroger could be headed for the most high-profile legal fight of his career, vowing to defend the national health care overhaul that many of his Republican counterparts around the nation are attacking in the courts. The first-term Democratic attorney general and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a former state Supreme Court justice, announced Wednesday that the Beaver State will take legal action to defend the constitutionality of the nearly $1 trillion health care bill signed by President Barack Obama last week. Kroger is the first state attorney general to announce that he will take steps to defend the law, which, among other things, will require that Americans have health insurance and bar insurance companies from dropping sick patients and denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions. "The health care reform cases present some of the most important constitutional issues facing this generation," said Kroger, a former law professor and federal prosecutor. More than a dozen state attorneys general -- all Republicans but one -- are suing the federal government, claiming that Congress overstepped its constitutional bounds when it passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Specifically, they say a provision in the statute that requires Americans to have medical insurance or face financial penalties violates the Commerce Clause. Under the law, beginning in 2014, individuals who flout the mandate face an annual penalty of $695, while employers could face penalties of $2,000 per worker for not offering affordable health coverage. "Opponents of the bill seek to turn back the constitutional clock 100 years, returning to a time when the United States Supreme Court routinely struck down legislation designed to protect the health, safety and well-being of the American people," Kroger said. The health care overhaul will add about 16 million people to the states' Medicaid rolls and would subsidize private health coverage for low- and middle-income Americans. The law marks the most significant expansion of medical care in the United States since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled. "I'm proud to have Oregon stand up in court and defend this legislation, which will extend health care to thousands of Oregonians and millions of uninsured Americans," Kulongoski said. Parties to the lawsuit filed in Florida are the state attorneys general from the Sunshine State, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota and Washington. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is the only Democrat who joined Republicans in their effort to block the new health care law. Virginia's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed a separate lawsuit in his state.