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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he'll join at least a dozen other states in a lawsuit against the health care reform package passed by the U.S. House on Sunday.
"This lawsuit will help make sure the rights and the interests of American citizens are protected." Mark Shurtleff
Specifically, Shurtleff believes it's unconstitutional for the federal government to require individuals either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. He also said it's about states' rights.
"We can't just sit back and continue to let Congress erode individual rights and states' rights," Shurtleff said Monday morning. "And we think this is one big clash that has to be answered."
Shurtleff said the Commerce Clause that supporters say allows for such a mandate does not apply in this situation.
He also says the suit is not about politics.
"Violation of separation of powers, violation of the 10th Amendment; this is all about the process," he said. "This has nothing to do with the policy, whether we ought to have health care reform. It's whether Congress has the power to mandate, for example, that every individual must buy insurance or face a penalty."
He says nearly half a dozen states have been in talks for weeks, waiting to see if the bill would pass. He has been working with attorneys general in those states, and a draft of a lawsuit is ready to go.
"We believe this is a landmark," he continued. "It's unprecedented type of legislation, to face an unprecedented expansion of power. To actually sue the federal government based on an act of Congress, is really unprecedented," he said.
Shurtleff says others states are expected to join in the litigation.
Meantime, Governor Gary R. Herbert signed HB67 Monday, which requires the Utah Department of Health to carefully analyze federal healthcare reform efforts prior to implementation and to report to the Legislature potential impacts on Utahns and to the state's own healthcare reform efforts.
"States must take reasoned, proactive steps to keep themselves in control of their own reform efforts," Gov. Herbert said. "With last night's passage of federal healthcare reform legislation, it is more important than ever that we stand up to the federal government. States simply cannot afford an unfunded mandate of this magnitude that creates yet another unmanageable federal entitlement program.
"In addition, every Utahn should be concerned about the impact of this legislation on our economic recovery, the chilling effect on job creation for small businesses, and the added burden to an already unacceptable and growing national debt."
Gov. Herbert also voiced his support of Shurtleff's participation in the lawsuit against the reform package, "A lawsuit puts into action concerns over a federal government overreach that is unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional."
But the Utah Health Policy Project, which supports health care reform, calls the suit a long shot.
Policy Director Lincoln Nehring said, "As a policy he may not like the individual mandate, but I think it's very clear that it's constitutionally permissible."
Utah Congressmen React
Utah's three Congressmen have their doubts about the bill. All voted against it. Sen. Orrin Hatch supports the suit.
"Congress has overstepped its legal authority by telling Utahns and other Americans that they must buy health insurance or else," Hatch said. "The Constitution empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but not to tell Americans what they can buy. And this is just one of the constitutionally suspect provisions in the legislation. So I commend Mark Shurtleff's and other state attorney generals' plan to challenge this unconstitutional Washington mandate that encroaches on states' rights and Utahns' personal liberty, and I will do all I can to assist them in their efforts."
Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said, "The overall emphasis of this bill is really a power shift away from Utahns making a choice back to Washington doing a one-size-fits-all for the program."
"Yes, there are some good ideas in the bill. It wasn't good enough for me when I was weighing the positives and negatives to vote yes, but I can acknowledge there are some components of the bill that are going to make progress," said Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat.
At a clinic in Salt Lake, one family doctor says despite questions about costs, he's excited about the changes.
"This legislation, the most important thing is that there are people who need insurance and want insurance that couldn't afford it, or were uninsurable and are going to be able to get it," said Dr. Kim Bateman.
One of the clinic patients, though, says he worries about higher medical bills and less coverage.
"I'm skeptical of where we're heading," said Steve Armstrong, a West Jordan resident.
The attorneys general of Utah, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Washington have all agreed to file the lawsuit if Pres. Obama signs the bill into law. He is expected to do that as early as Tuesday.