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Iowa's role not likely to change as health care law goes to SCOTUS

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | DECEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa's challenge to the Democrats' health-care overhaul is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court but that likely won't mean much for officials in Iowa.

Federal officials announced last month that the country's highest court would hear arguments in Florida et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Florida and 25 other states' challenge to the health-care reform law signed by President Obama last year.

Branstad signed on to the lawsuit shortly after taking office at the beginning of the year. He said at the time that the law would end up costing taxpayers billions.

"I am signing on to this suit as the governor on behalf of the people of Iowa, because I believe Iowa taxpayers deserve to be heard on this critical matter," he said in January. "As we begin constructing our five-year budget, there is no doubt that the current federal health-care law will shackle Iowa taxpayers for billions in unfunded mandates."

But the despite the governor's stamp of approval, the administration's legal staff in Des Moines has little to do with arguing the case.

"It's more so lending our support for the lawsuit stating that the state of Iowa is concerned with the government takeover of health care and the costs associated with it that will burden our state and with the constitutionality of the federal mandate," Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said. "By signing onto this, we give a voice to those who are concerned and think it's unconstitutionality, the governor included."

And David Orentlicher, who heads the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University, said in cases with so many litigants, few of those involved are likely doing daily work on the case.

"Most of the work is done by a few of them, rather than all of them being actively involved," said Orentlicher, who has widely defended the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "I'm sure they all get a chance to comment and make changes, but I would expect a limited number to be doing most of the work."

But even if nobody in Des Moines is losing sleep over the case — which the court is expected to rule on before next year's presidential election — the issue is still a hot political item in Iowa.

For starters, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, has signed onto a brief in defense of the law's constitutionality. That puts Iowa in a sticky situation: The state's top lawyer, charged with handling all litigation involving the state, supports the law, while the governor opposes it. In short, Iowa both officially supports the law and officially opposes the law.

Miller acknowledged the tension in a statement he released after Branstad signed onto the lawsuit.

"However, in this unusual set of circumstances, given what is at stake for the public, Gov. Branstad should have the ability to express his viewpoint as governor," said Miller, a Democrat.

Other top Democrats in the state have been very critical of Branstad for challenging the law.

"Countless Iowans are already benefiting from the Affordable Care Act while Gov. Branstad wastes state resources to fight it," Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Sam Roecker said. "The bottom line is that health-care reform is saving Iowa families money and expanding access to health care. It's unfortunate that Gov. Branstad and his Republican colleagues want to undo the protections in this law and are so focused on repealing it that they have failed to propose any alternative plan."


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