published Thursday, March 25th, 2010

State's leaders split on suit over reform

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is butting heads with the state's top lawyer, threatening to "go it alone" and sue the federal government over a new federal health care law.

State Attorney General Thurbert Baker on Wednesday declined the Republican's governor request to sue over the health care law, arguing the state doesn't have a "a viable legal claim."

"I cannot in good conscience file a lawsuit against the United States that I believe has little or no chance of success and will undoubtedly consume significant state resources in a time of severe budgetary crisis," Mr. Baker wrote in a letter to the governor.

Mr. Baker is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. Perdue, who is barred by term limits from running again.

But Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley fired back that the state could "go it alone" with an outside attorney.

"His (Mr. Baker's) refusal to participate doesn't preclude us from going forward," Mr. Brantley told reporters.

He said several lawyers have volunteered to handle a lawsuit at no charge.

Mr. Brantley also suggested politics might be behind Mr. Baker's decision not to sue over the Democrat-backed bill, the top domestic issue for President Barack Obama.

"We know that he's a candidate for governor and so we know that there are multiple things that he's looking at or thinking about and that's fine," Mr. Brantley said.

Mr. Baker dismissed that claim. He said his decision was driven by the rule of law, "not the politics of the moment."

"This was not a very tough legal question," Baker said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Attorneys general from 13 other states have filed a federal lawsuit arguing the federal law is unconstitutional.

Gov. Perdue has said the law would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year by expanding Medicaid rolls, including state workers' children up to age 26 in their parents' health insurance and requiring creation of a health care purchasing exchange.

Georgia House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, suggested Wednesday that Gov. Perdue could need legislative approval to pursue a lawsuit without the OK of the state's top lawyer.

Looking ahead

The Times Free Press will examine the impact of health care reform in coming days.

* Friday: Doctors and hospitals

* Saturday: The cost to employers

* Sunday: Pre-existing conditions

* Monday: Coverage for young adults

RELATED COVERAGE

A House subcommittee delayed final action on a Tennessee Health Freedom Act. Metro.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Republican state senators issued a joint statement urging Gov. Perdue to join the lawsuit.

In a news release, Lt. Gov. Cagle said the healthcare legislation "will devastate our nation's economy by creating $50 billion in tax increases, cutting benefits to senior citizens and violating individual citizens' right to choose their own healthcare.

"In addition to the questionable constitutionality of the bill, the unfunded mandates in the healthcare reform will cripple Georgia's economic recovery," the release stated.

Nearly 1.6 million Georgians now receive health care through the Medicaid program or Peachcare for Kids.

Last fall, the Georgia Department of Community Health estimated that under the plan, 673,938 Georgians could join the Medicaid rolls at a cost of $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion over the next decade.

Staff Writer Dave Flessner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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