MO Attorney Gen Agrees With PPACA Challenge, Sort Of

The Attorney General of the state of Missouri, Chris Koster, filed a brief which supports a suit challenging the federal health insurance reform act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed into law in 2010. This amicus, or “friend on the court,” brief doesn’t actually join Missouri to the lawsuit in a formal fashion, but supports the challenge to the PPACA’s constitutionality which was brought by Florida and now 25 other states, and expresses the Attorney General of Missouri’s legal belief that the PPACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional.

The PPACA was signed into law by President Obama a little over a year ago, and it is scheduled to become fully effective in 2014. Until that time, several parts of the Act are being phased into effect. When 2014 does come, it is expected that the health care system in the United States will be prepared for “universal” health care. The most controversial point of the PPACA is its individual mandate, which will require any American who has the financial means to purchase health insurance but chooses not to do so to pay a hefty penalty for this abstention.

The mandate has been hotly contended over, polarizing the debate along party lines, with Republican-held states lodging legal complaints against the law’s constitutional validity, under the premise that the government can’t force the citizenry to carry insurance or pay a penalty. Currently the Supreme Court is considering reviewing several cases challenging the mandate, such as the one from Florida, where a federal circuit court judge determined that the mandate was, in fact, un-constitutional, and because of this the entire act needs to be struck down, as the mandate forms a basic part of the structure of the act. The Obama administration has been appealing this decision, so the fight is likely to end up before the highest court in the nation in this next year.

Attorney General Koster’s amicus brief requests the appellate court which is scheduled to hear the suit next to settle two key issues: whether or not the Constitution of the United States can in fact be interpreted in such a way as to render the mandate constitutionally correct, and if then the rest of the PPACA could be preserved if the mandate is removed from the equation.

His advice to the appellate court stressed his concurrence with one aspect of the lower circuit court’s judgment, but that he is in disagreement with the other part. Koster says that Congress has “reached beyond” allowable interpretations of the Constitution when it agreed to pass the individual mandate of the PPACA, but he also states that if the mandate is, in fact, un-constitutional, that the remainder of the PPACA can be revised, retaining the other vital aspects of health care reform it attempts to codify.

Koster is a Democrat, and his amicus brief is his response to months of pleading by the Republican majority in Missouri to state his legal opinion on the matter. The right-wing majority’s demands of action on the part of the Attorney General were increased in August of 2010 by the results of a state-wide vote which supposedly makes the individual mandate de-facto illegal in Missouri, but the resolutions were non-binding in the Senate and House.

In his letter to the legislature, Attorney General Koster states that he filed his brief in order to throw the legitimacy of the legal questions raised by the conservative lawmakers into light, but also to stress that the constitutionality of the PPACA isn’t based on opposition against “the expansion of health coverage for uninsured Americans.”

“To the contrary,” he wrote, “I favor the expansion of health coverage.”

Republicans in Missouri were not overjoyed by Koster’s efforts or his reasoning. Tim Jones, who is the Missouri House floor leader, called Koster’s responses “tepid,” but that they were still welcome.

“He’s waded into it the most gentle way he could, and it would’ve been nice to see a more aggressive stance from him, but we’re glad he’s come to the party,” Representative Jones remarked.

Missouri’s Republican Lieutenant Governor, Peter Kinder, said Koster’s moves came “a day late and a dollar short,” and were not adequate advocacy for the Attorney General of Missouri’s constituency.