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Texas Attorney General triumphant over healthcare ruling

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July 2, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Texas

AUSTIN, Texas: Nearly three months after the passage of the Affordable Care Act on Christmas Eve 2009, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott posted on his Facebook page that he was "organizing a conference call tonight for AGs across the country. We will discuss our litigation strategy about the healthcare bill."[1] Two days later, Abbott and twelve other attorneys general (a coalition that would eventually swell to include twenty-six state attorneys general) filed suit against the federal government, "to stop the massive health care overhaul," claiming the law was unconstitutional.[2] In a written statement issued that same day, Abbott affirmed that he would do everything within his official powers "to protect all Texans' constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation's founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government."[3]

On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act, with Chief Justice Roberts providing the deciding vote. The landmark decision was hailed as a victory by both ends of the political spectrum. Those who defended the President's healthcare overhaul from the beginning felt the ruling vindicated the President and the law against accusations of unconstitutionality; those who opposed the law, including the group of attorneys general who instigated the legal challenge, felt likewise redeemed insofar as two key provisos were determined by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.[4] For one, the court ruled to limit the federal government's authority to require states to participate in the coming Medicaid expansion. Second, the individual mandate failed to stand up to constitutional vetting vis a vis the Commerce Clause, and therefore could only survive in the form of a tax. The latter proviso struck at the heart of the lawsuit, leading Abbott to call the ruling a “total victory.” In a statement to the New York Times, Abbott said, “When the sun sets on this, one thing we know is that the Obama administration will scoff no more at the resolve and ability of state attorneys general."[5]

One major takeaway from Abbott's statement is the low expectation that the state will opt into participating in the Medicaid expansion, even with billions of federal dollars and the potential coverage of 2 million additional Texans hinging on the decision. Trey Martinez Fischer, a State House Democrat who is head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said, “I’m not holding my breath. It almost seems to me the Republican leaders are still in denial about what happened at the Supreme Court.”[6]

Indeed, in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling, the position of Gov. Rick Perry is in line with the attorney general's concerning Medicaid. The governor “has no interest in fast-tracking any portion of this bankrupting and overreaching legislation,” according to deputy press secretary Josh Havens.

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