Shurtleff: Utah to join lawsuit against federal health care reform

Published: Tuesday, March 23 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Monday that Utah will join a group of states in filing a lawsuit against just-approved federal health care legislation as soon as it's signed today by President Barack Obama.

Shurtleff called the new set of reforms unconstitutional and said Utah is ready to act in defense of its citizens' rights. "This is one of the biggest federal grabs ever conducted of states' powers," Shurtleff said. "We, along with other participating states, will file this complaint as soon as the president signs the bill."

Shurtleff is one of at least 10 state attorneys general who had promised by Monday to file suit. The other states are Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. Officials in North Dakota were weighing whether to join the case.

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said Monday evening he was disappointed with news that Utah would join with other states in such litigation.

"I've always viewed the relationship between states and the federal government, in terms of health care reform, as one that works best as a partnership," Litvack said. "The focus should be on healthy debate, especially about the individual mandate part of this legislation … 99 percent of what passed Sunday is non-controversial and letting this one aspect derail the whole process doesn't help those most in need."

Litvack noted that the efforts already under way to re-make Utah's health care system may have eventually come to the same conclusion that Congress did — that mandating individual health insurance coverage served the greater good.

"As the work to reform our state's system continues, it's not clear that the door was shut on the possibility of the individual mandate," Litvack said. "This, if it stands, just may push us faster in a direction we were already headed."

In Washington, Obama's health care overhaul isn't completely finished. Republicans in the Senate are planning parliamentary maneuvers to keep a companion bill from reaching the president's desk.

Experts say that, plus the states' threatened lawsuit and moves afoot in several other states to thwart the mandate forcing Americans to have health insurance, are not likely to work, but it will keep the issue, and the outrage, alive until Election Day.

Although the main bill has passed both houses of Congress, a series of changes sought by House Democrats was headed to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as today.

Former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said Monday the health care bill is unconstitutional, deserves to be repealed and will help cost the Democrat a second term.

The former Massachusetts governor made the remarks after signing nearly 1,000 copies of his new book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," at a bookstore near his La Jolla, Calif., vacation home.

Romney said the bill is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate commerce. He says it needs to be repealed in part because it was passed without bipartisan support.

Shurtleff said the most troublesome provision in the bill, which squeaked through the U.S. House of Representatives Sunday on a 219-212 vote with all three Utah House members weighing in against the proposal, requires uninsured citizens to purchase insurance or face penalties.

"This requirement goes far beyond the constitutional limits of federal power into the realm of state authority," Shurtleff said. "And, it is in direct conflict with the mandates of HB67, which the Legislature approved this session."