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Our view: Rule of law

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson sensibly issued a stay Thursday of his ruling earlier this year that the health-care overhaul is unconstitutional.

Judge Vinson was one of two federal judges who have found the federal requirement to buy health insurance violated the U.S. Constitution. Vinson went beyond his colleague in concluding that the entire overhaul was thus unconstitutional.

Gov. Sean Parnell used that conclusion as the basis for refusing to implement any provisions of the health-care bill, arguing that even though other federal judges (three so far) have disagreed with Judge Vinson, Alaska was a party to the Florida suit and thus bound by its decision. Now, unless the feds fail to appeal, Parnell rightly says he'll follow the law and implement the health-care provisions, although he said he'll consider doing so with state, rather than federal money.

The governor already has declined to accept $1 million in federal money to begin planning for an insurance exchange, and that call likely precludes further federal aid to help poorer Alaskans buy that insurance.

We don't think that was the right call, but the governor wasn't required to apply for that assistance. The state already has accepted other federal money to implement the law, and we hope the governor will use it as intended while the constitutional questions work their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Like Parnell, Judge Vinson hasn't changed his view of the health-care overhaul. But as Vinson wrote in his stay, shutting down implementation would be "would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty." Further, he said he expected other judges, from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, to be split on the issue.

Uncertainty is still the rule for the long haul. But the judge provides some certainty about states' marching orders for the short term. Implement the law in its stages, while waiting for a final decision. That's wise.

Waivers for Alaska?

President Obama told the nation's governors this week that he's open to states coming up with their own health-care provisions and opting out of some federal requirements -- provided they meet the overhaul's goals.

In other words, if states can find a better way to make health care available and affordable, with improved coverages, they can get waivers to pursue those programs.

The law passed in 2010 allowed waivers beginning in 2017. Bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate would move that up to 2014 -- the same year the challenged mandatory purchase would take effect. States could get a waiver for that and other requirements if they came up with their own plans to cover residents.

Vermont already is on the waiver track, aiming for a single-payer system.

What about Alaska?

Gov. Parnell said last month that he wanted to pursue a state-level, market-based solution to Alaskans' health-care needs. Looks like some of that opportunity is still there.

We know the governor doesn't have a ready-made plan to pull off the shelf. But if he's serious about a state-based solution, one tailored to Alaska's needs and circumstances, Alaskans would be open to it. If we can do better than Uncle Sam, let's show the nation how.

BOTTOM LINE: Health care ruling says carry on, but door is open for states to do better.