Gov. Sean Parnell is exploring options to bypass enactment in Alaska of federal health care reform after a Florida U.S. District Court judge found part of the law unconstitutional, according to a report from Alaska Public Radio Network. He told reporters that he's "duty-bound" to uphold the U.S. Constitution; due to the court's ruling, Parnell says the Protecting Patients and Affordable Health Care Act "is not the law of the land."
Health care reform doesn't completely take effect until 2014. It focuses on reforming the private health insurance industry, offering more health-care choices to consumers, lowering the national debt, improving existing prescription coverage in Medicare while extending the Medicare program and eventually requiring all Americans to carry health insurance. At least that's what the controversial legislation's backers -- including the Democratic Party, most Independents in Congress, Catholic nuns, the American Association of Retired Persons, nurses unions and some drug manufacturers -- purport the legislation will do. The other half of the country sees it pushing America ever-closer to insolvency.
Among the only consumer-related portions that have gone into effect is a provision that allows young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance until age 26. Another provision guarantees some sort of alternative and less-expensive insurance option for Americans suffering from pre-existing conditions, and who have consequently found themselves discriminated against or excluded by private insurers due to an illness.
Eventually, states will need to create a private health care market that allows consumers to shop for health insurance. President Obama has instructed the Health and Human Services Department, along with the Justice Department, to make sure that the states know they must be prepared to fully implement the law by 2014.
Alaska lawmakers have proposed creating an online consumer marketplace that allows comparing various insurance options and packages in an easy-to-use format, much the same way that they currently shop online for airline tickets.
"Right now, the law of the land -- as stated by the district court (in Florida) -- is that the entire law is unconstitutional," said Parnell, according to APRN. "So I'm caught between a federal government that says you must pursue this, and I have the duty to uphold the rule of law."
The governor makes no mention of two other U.S. District Court rulings that have upheld the law. Instead, Parnell asked Alaska Attorney General John Burns to figure out how he can avoid implementing health care reform in the state.
The U.S. Supreme Court will likely determine the constitutionality of the health care law. Meantime, the U.S. Senate voted down a proposed repeal of the law earlier this week. The defeat came after a Jan. 20 vote by the U.S. House to repeal health care reform.
Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com