Nobel Economists Ask to Help U.S. in Health-Care Suit

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum
Bill McCollum, Attorney General of Florida. Photographer: Ric Feld/Bloomberg

A group of 35 economists, including three Nobel laureates, asked a U.S. judge for permission to file a brief backing the Obama administration’s bid to end a lawsuit challenging its health-care overhaul.

Nobel Prize-winning economists Kenneth Arrow, George Akerlof and Eric Maskin are among the scholars who filed papers today asking U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, to allow them to submit a brief they say will give the court “insight.”

Nineteen states have joined in the lawsuit brought by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on March 23, which claimed the health-care legislation signed by President Barack Obama earlier that day is overbroad and unconstitutional.

“Everyone gets sick, suffers an injury at some point in their life or must address the vicissitudes of aging and seek medical care,” the economists’ lawyer, Richard Rosen, wrote in today’s filing. “Those medical costs typically arise at unpredictable times and, when they occur, often exceed the ability to pay of all but the very wealthiest of Americans.”

The states, in court papers, have claimed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA, unlawfully forces individuals to buy health insurance and compels states to participate in a “greatly expanded and fundamentally transformed Medicaid program.”

Several Petitions Filed

The U.S. has asked Vinson to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that it was filed prematurely because the bulk of the act doesn’t take effect until 2014. The administration has also said the states don’t identify any injury sustained by them or by individuals compelled to obtain coverage.

The economists’ petition to participate in the proceedings is one of several that have been filed with the court in advance of an oral argument scheduled by Vinson for Dec. 16.

Eight Republican U.S. senators, including leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Cornyn of Texas and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, today filed their own request for submission of a brief backing the states’ contention the act is unconstitutional.

The senators said in their filing that they are “in the best position to underscore that where Congress legislates without authority,” as the states allege was done in mandating individuals must obtain health care coverage.

A parallel challenge to the legislation, filed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, is pending in federal court in Richmond.

Joining Florida in its lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

A spokeswoman for McCollum, Sandi Copes, said the attorney general will “wait to see whether the court grants these motions.”

The Florida case is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 3:10-cv-00091, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Pensacola).

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