McGraw

WASHINGTON -- A group of at least 13 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform legislation signed earlier in the day by President Barack Obama.

With the stroke of a pen, the president made the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.

"We have just now enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care," Obama said while signing the legislation.

But Republican AGs and at least one Democratic AG say the bill is unconstitutional, primarily because it contains a mandate for individuals to have health insurance coverage or face an annual penalty of $695.

West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw apparently won't be joining the suit challenging the reforms.

West Virginia Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes didn't return calls to The West Virginia Record seeking comment, but she told MetroNews that the lawsuit looks like the usual Washington politics.

"We don't think people make wise decisions when they are overexcited and ready to strike," Hughes told MetroNews. "They allow politics to permeate their thinking process."

Hughes told MetroNews there needs to be a thoughtful, deliberative analysis of every provision of the bill.

"We need to wait until the temperature cools," she said. "We need to receive a copy of the bill and read it carefully, every provision and hear from citizens as to their thoughts as to how its affecting them.

"We are very hopeful this has a positive effect on West Virginians."

Businesses with more than 50 workers would have to provide coverage or pay a $2,000-per-worker penalty if any employees get government-subsidized plans on their own.

The legislation also will add about 16 million people to the states' Medicaid rolls and would subsidize private health coverage for low- and middle-income Americans. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill will cost about $938 billion over the next decade.

The bill was passed Sunday evening by the House of Representatives.

Congressional Democrats, who championed the plan said during debate, said the law is needed to help the millions of Americans who lack access to health care.

When the law is fully phased in, 94 percent of eligible non-elderly Americans will have coverage, compared with 83 percent now. Moreover, the plan will reduce federal deficits by $143 billion over a decade.

But even noble efforts are no justification to run roughshod over the law, said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

"No public policy goal -- no matter how important or well-intentioned--can be allowed to trample the protections and rights guaranteed by our Constitution," Abbott said. "To protect all Texans' constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation's founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states have filed a legal challenge seeking judgment from the courts that the federal health care take over is unconstitutional."

The attorneys general filed their lawsuit in the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola minutes after Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law.

"The law exceeds the powers of the United States under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, the tax penalty required under the law constitutes an unlawful direct tax in violation of Article I, sections 2 and 9 of the Constitution," Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said.

Attorneys general a party to the lawsuit are the AGs from Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota and Washington.

Virginia's attorney general filed a separate lawsuit in his state. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is the only Democrat who joined Republicans in their effort to block the law.

The lawsuit, led by Florida AG Bill McCollum, names the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor as defendants because the agencies are charged with implementing the law.

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