SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris has joined nine other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in support of the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's federal health care reform.
"Health care reform saves lives, and that is why I am determined to protect this law," Harris said in a statement Thursday.
The filing comes a week after a federal appeals court ruled that the health care law is constitutional, becoming the first such court to weigh in on the issue.
Last week, two members of a three-judge panel sided with the federal government's argument that it is not unconstitutional to charge a $695 annual penalty to individuals who do not purchase health insurance. The challenge to the law came from the Thomas More Law Center.
The federal government also was successful at the district court case, though it received unfavorable decisions in two cases involving state attorneys general -- one a 26-state lawsuit in Florida and another from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The respective appeals courts have not decided those challenges yet.
"In my opinion, the government has the better of the arguments," Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote before adding that the courts of appeal "are not just fallible but utterly non-final in this case."
"Congress could reasonably conclude that the decisions and actions of the self-insured substantially affect interstate commerce," Sutton added. "In choosing how to regulate this group, Congress also did not exceed its power. The basic policy idea, for better or worse (and courts must assume better), is to compel individuals with the requisite income to pay now rather than later for health care.
"Call this mandate what you will -- an affront to individual autonomy or an imperative of national health care -- it meets the requirement of regulating activities that substantially affect interstate income."
Harris and the other attorneys general argued in their brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, that the Constitution grants Congress broad powers to regulate interstate commerce -- and that the decision to purchase health insurance has a significant impact on interstate commerce because it allows the formation of risk pools, lowers health care costs nationally and reduces the cost of uncompensated care.
"The law strikes an appropriate, constitutional balance between federal and state authority over the health care system by creating federal requirements, backed by federal funding, to expand access to affordable coverage, while conferring considerable latitude to allow states to decide how best to design a system of federally-supported coverage that works well for their citizens," the brief said.
The attorneys general argue that the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also will reduce the need to shift the cost of uncompensated care of the uninsured -- and thus will reduce the expenses now absorbed by the states and by individuals with health insurance.
The nine other states joining California in the amicus brief include Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Vermont.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.