Mo. AG: Health overhaul has uncertain legal status

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the ultimate legal fate of the federal health care law is uncertain and that the decision about whether Missouri should prepare to implement the law is a question for lawmakers and the governor.

In a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press but written last month, Koster, a Democrat, said at least nine federal appellate judges would examine the health care law. The letter was in response to a request from three Missouri Republican officials about whether the federal health care law was enforceable in Missouri.

Koster said Missouri could risk possible sanctions or other costs by not complying with the law while waiting for a definitive ruling. However, Koster said his office would defend state policy decisions if the federal government were to seek sanctions against the state or its officials.

The letter was sent to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer and House Speaker Steven Tilley, who last month requested an attorney general opinion after a Florida judge ruled the health care law was unconstitutional. Two other federal judges have upheld the law, and one judge has rejected a portion that requires most Americans to buy health insurance starting in 2014.

President Barack Obama signed the health care overhaul into law one year ago Wednesday.

Koster said the decision about whether to move forward with complying with the health care overhaul is a policy decision.

“How to weigh the risks of potential sanctions, consequences, and costs; the likelihood that the Northern District of Florida’s position will be the one that ultimately prevails; and the expense of continuing preparation to meet the Act’s deadlines are policy questions to be decided between the General Assembly and the governor,” Koster said. “These are not legal questions that can be addressed through the attorney general’s opinion process.”

The three GOP officials this week released another letter criticizing Koster’s answer and accusing him of dodging.

“Despite our request for your opinion on enforcing the federal health care law in Missouri, you fail to state whether you view this law as constitutional and whether it should be followed in Missouri,” they wrote. “Instead, your response to our letter is a bare and tedious recitation of the status of various lawsuits.”

Kinder has filed a lawsuit challenging the health care law. The Republican-led Legislature has approved resolutions urging Koster to challenge the health care law or join an existing suit.

Posted at 11:24 a.m. March 22, 2011:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says the federal health care law’s legal fate is still uncertain.

Koster’s statement comes in response to three Republican officials who asked him whether he thought the law could be enforced in Missouri.

Two federal judges upheld the health care overhaul. A third struck down the insurance requirement, and a fourth ruled the entire law is unconstitutional. Appeals courts will consider those rulings.

Koster says Missouri risks possible sanctions by not complying with the law while waiting for a definitive ruling. Koster says lawmakers and the governor will have to weigh the risks of possible sanctions against costs for complying with the law.

The GOP officials who requested the legal analysis criticized Koster’s response for not being sufficiently specific.

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