March 24th, 2010
12:51 PM ET

Health care bill lawsuits are going nowhere

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/24/t1.healthcare.jpg width=300 height=169]Editor's note: Timothy Stoltzfus Jost is a professor of law at the Washington and Lee University. Jost, a Democrat, blogs about legal issues in health reform at http://www.oneillhealthreformblog.org . The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stolzfus Jost.

Timothy Stoltzfus Jost
Special to CNN

A state attorney general is almost by definition a candidate for higher office. The filing of lawsuits challenging the health reform law by 14 attorneys general - all but one of them Republican - may look good for their next campaigns, but these cases are going nowhere legally.

The case filed by Florida and 12 other states challenges obligations allegedly imposed on the states by the statute as well as the individual insurance purchase mandate imposed by the law. The Virginia case challenges only the individual mandate, setting up against it a new Virginia law purporting to nullify it.

One of the states' claims is based on a simple misreading of the health reform law.

The lawsuit claims that it compels the states to enforce the federal law or to operate exchanges that would make health insurance available to consumers. Section 1321 gives states the choice of doing so or not, and if states elect not to do so, the federal government will enforce the law and operate the exchange in the state.

No state has to do anything, except make its choice known to the federal government. Moreover, section 1333 of the act allows states to apply for a waiver to take a completely different approach to covering their residents if they have a better idea.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Health Care • Opinion • Timothy Stoltzfus Jost
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