Oklahoma Attorney General Revises Health-Care Lawsuit

President Barack Obama’s health care reform can be blocked by a state constitutional amendment in Oklahoma declaring residents can’t be forced to buy health insurance, a state official said in a revised lawsuit.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who initially filed a legal challenge to Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in January 2011, asked in a revised complaint yesterday for a federal judge to rule that the part of the law mandating people purchase insurance or face a tax penalty is inoperative in his state.

Oklahoma amended its constitution by popular vote in November 2010, eight months after Obama signed the health care law. The amendment prohibited any rule or law forcing a person, employer or health care provider to participate in a health care system.

“Oklahoma’s constitution has not been preempted insofar as it protects Oklahomans from being forced to buy health insurance,” according to the new complaint.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the U.S. Congress’s authority to implement the law under its taxing powers while rejecting Obama administration claims that the measure was a valid exercise of the legislature’s ability to regulate commerce.

Appeal Ruling

U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White in Muskogee, Oklahoma, last year stayed progress on the Pruitt litigation while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta in a lawsuit filed by 26 other U.S. states and the National Federation of Independent Business.

At Pruitt’s request, White lifted that bar on Sept. 12.

In the revised complaint, Pruitt also alleges that a new federal regulation allowing the U.S. to establish a health insurance exchange within the state absent a state-created exchange is unlawful.

“Oklahoma has not established or elected to establish an exchange and does not expect to do so,” according to the complaint.

Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said yesterday that she had no immediate comment on the new Oklahoma claims.

The case is State of Oklahoma v. Sebelius, 11-cv-00030, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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