A day after a federal judge struck down the government's plan to overhaul the health-care system, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a stern statement: "This means that, for Wisconsin, the federal health care law is dead," and that his state "was relieved of any obligations or duties" to carry out the statute.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), on the other hand, pointed to the 700 people in his state with serious medical problems who already found insurance under the law. "Who goes to these people," the governor said in an interview, "and tells them, 'Sorry, a judge in Florida has decided we now need to put you out in the cold?' "
Wisconsin and Colorado are among the 26 states joined in the legal challenge that prompted Monday's opinion by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla., that the law is invalid because it goes too far in requiring most Americans to buy health insurance. The opposing reactions from Van Hollen and Hickenlooper reflect striking disagreement over the ruling's practical effects, even for the states in which the decision has the greatest direct impact.
Officials in Idaho and Florida, the state that initiated the lawsuit last March, said the ruling gives them the freedom to stop the work they have begun to put the law into effect. "We are not going to spend a lot of time and money with regard to trying to get ready to implement it," Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told reporters in Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, the governors of Georgia, Iowa and Mississippi said through spokesmen that they did not think the court decision gave them license to stop work on the law, in part because the ruling is destined to be appealed to higher courts. "The state cannot halt midstream, because that would be irresponsible," said Brian C. Robinson, communications director for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), inaugurated last month after years in Congress. "It would put us too far behind if our litigation is not successful in the end." Officials in some of the other 26 participating states said they simply have not yet determined what the ruling means in practice.
The interpretations by these states are significant because, under the ruling, only the direct parties to the case potentially are exempt from the law's requirements, according to the plaintiff's attorney, David Rivkin. At issue, he said, are sweeping changes to the nation's health-care system that the law delegates to states. They include an expansion of Medicaid, the public insurance program for low-income Americans, so that it becomes available to people with higher incomes. They also include the design of insurance "exchanges," new-fangled marketplaces through which individuals and small businesses will be able to buy coverage. Both changes are to take effect in 2014 and require intricate preparations.
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