AG says time not right to challenge exemption

Review will come if Nebraska Medicaid provision in final healthcare law, Goddard says

KINGMAN - Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard has declined a request from Gov. Jan Brewer to review the legality of the healthcare reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate before Christmas, saying Brewer needs to wait until the president signs the bill.

The bill included wording that would allow the state of Nebraska to be forever exempt from paying for any newly eligible Medicare recipients. The bill is currently being reconciled with a similar bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

"No other state in the country would receive this extraordinary financial privilege," Brewer wrote in her Dec. 31 request to Goddard. "The cost of this special treatment for Nebraska would be shifted to the federal government and ultimately borne by taxpayers of the other 49 states, including Arizona.

"I am profoundly concerned that this exemption afforded only to the residents of one state violates the constitutional rights of the taxpayers of Arizona. To also require Arizona's taxpayers to pay for a share of Nebraska's costs to provide healthcare to its own citizens offends the basic principles of fairness and equity."

She asked Goddard to join the attorneys general from 13 other states in looking into the legality of the bill.

"Given the depth of the impending financial ramifications to our state, I feel strongly that we must not wait until after the bill passes to take action to protect the rights of Arizonans," she wrote.

Goddard disagreed.

"The specific provision of the proposed federal health bill that concerns you has not yet been passed by Congress or signed by the president. The issue is not yet ripe for consideration of a legal challenge," he said in a letter dated Dec. 31. "I hope you will join me in denouncing financial decisions made without public observation and input. Should the Nebraska benefit ever become law, I assure you I will examine it closely for any constitutional flaws."