JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday he’ll treat national health care reform as “being in place” following a judge’s decision the new program should be implemented even as legal questions get sorted out.
But Parnell also said the decision, which comes a month after the same judge said the reform is unconstitutional, backs general legal challenges from Alaska.
Federal district court Judge Roger Vinson of Florida ruled in January to strike the program. A handful of judges have now split over the question, which all sides say will fall to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Associated Press in Florida reported that Vinson’s decision was a response to an Obama administration request.
It said the order leaves 26 states, including Alaska and Florida, that have challenged the law to at least follow it until the case is resolved. The report noted Vinson critiqued the federal administration for being slow to appeal even while he acknowledged that it’s in the country’s interest for states to follow the program for now.
Parnell used the news to restate his strong preference that Alaska use its own resources to solve health care problems and to make health care service more affordable rather than getting “entangled” with national efforts.
“Going forward, Alaska will make decisions on a case-by-case basis whether the state will undertake with our own money or with federal money how to implement the provisions of the law,” he said in a statement. “My sole responsibility is to act in Alaska’s best interests and we will do so.”
Parnell has been criticized by those saying he’s dragged his feet when it comes to implementing the new act. He drew heat last month after declining to apply for a $1 million grant to create an insurance exchange program, something state Senate President Gary Stevens said could cost the state money and administrative flexibility.
The state has, however, accepted millions of dollars for other health care ends under the new law, including health care for retirees not eligible for Medicare.
State Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, used Thursday’s news to again press Parnell to do more. He had previously requested a legal analysis that, last week, concluded Vinson’s ruling shouldn’t bind Alaska’s actions.
“This is a good day for Alaska,” French said Thursday in a statement. “The governor can no longer evade the issue. (One-hundred and fifteen thousand) Alaskans do not have health insurance. I look forward to working with the governor to help put the federal law in place that will help these Alaskans find a policy that works for them.”
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that it “welcomed” Vinson’s decision, saying failure to effectively implement the new act would create “enormous disruption” nationally.
“We strongly disagree with the district court’s underlying ruling in this case and continue to believe — as three federal courts have found — that this law is constitutional,” spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said on the department’s blog. “There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Affordable Care Act and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.