July 28--OKLAHOMA CITY -- Attorney General Scott Pruitt has tried to revive the state's lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the law's taxes on large businesses that don't supply workers with health insurance can't be enforced in Oklahoma.
"This lawsuit has never been about health care," Pruitt said in a prepared statement. "It is about the limits of the federal government under the spirit and letter of the Constitution and whether they have exceeded those limits through this act.
"Our duty is to defend the states' role and provide a check for this out-of-control administration that unashamedly seeks to exceed its authority."
The state's lawsuit against the law -- "Obamacare" to its opponents -- had been on high center for months while a U.S. District Court in Muskogee awaited Supreme Court action.
Originally, Pruitt challenged the law's so-called "individual mandate," the requirement that everyone have health insurance. In 2010, Oklahoma voters approved an addition to the state Constitution outlawing health insurance mandates in the state.
Earlier this month, federal attorneys formally advised U.S. District Judge Ronald White of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that largely upheld the federal law and argued that the ruling makes Oklahoma's suit unwinnable, but Pruitt's Friday filing argues that the high court didn't preempt the Oklahoma Constitution's individual mandate prohibition.
In fact, the Supreme Court found that the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause can't be used to force people to purchase health insurance, the filing points out.
While the high court's ruling says the insurance requirement can still be enforced as a tax, Friday's filing questions the ability of the federal government to enforce that tax in Oklahoma.
One section of the Affordable Care Act says the tax will be enforced on businesses with more than 50 employees if they don't provide insurance to their workers and those employees end up buying federally subsidized insurance through a state health insurance exchange.
Because Oklahoma hasn't, and almost certainly won't, establish an exchange, Pruitt argues the tax can't be enforced here.
Under the federal law, if Oklahoma doesn't establish an exchange, the federal government will impose one on it, but Pruitt said the tax can't be enforced through that route.
The IRS has said it intends to enforce the tax on companies whose employees purchase insurance through any exchange -- state or federal -- but Pruitt says that isn't legal.
"The IRS rules directly contradict the plain language of the (Affordable Care Act), which does not authorize such assessments on large employers in states that have not created health insurance exchanges -- states like Oklahoma," the filing says.
A recent article by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities addressed the argument that a federal exchange lacks the authority of a state exchange -- an argument advanced by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. -- as an alternative means of killing the Affordable Care Act in court, despite the Supreme Court ruling.
The Affordable Care Act makes it clear that a federal exchange is a state exchange in those states that don't establish their own, and the argument will never succeed in court, the article argues.
In its filing, the state asks White to lift a stay on Oklahoma's suit and give the state 30 days to possibly make additional filings.
If Oklahoma doesn't make any additional filings, Friday's request asks the court to rule based on its original arguments.
In a footnote to the filing, the attorney general's office quotes attorneys for the federal government as saying they disagree with Pruitt's reading of the Supreme Court's ruling but do not oppose the effort to lift the stay on the case.
"The defendants do not oppose the plaintiff's request to lift the stay," the footnote says. "Nor do the defendants oppose the plaintiff's request that judgment be entered if the plaintiff does not file an amended complaint within 30 days ... ."
Without an amended filing, the federal assumption is that Oklahoma's lawsuit will be dismissed, the footnote says.
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
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