Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he believes Oklahoma’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act has merit.
Pruitt believes if the case prevails could “effectively defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA).”
During Pruitt’s nearly hour long meeting with the Woodward News, he also discussed three other high profile issues such as EPA, the abortion drug-RU486 and worker’s compensation fraud. Those, among other issues, have been priority for his department since he was elected and sworn in January 2011, he said.
On Aug. 12, U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma upheld Oklahoma’s right to proceed with its federal lawsuit against the ACA, which was first filed in early 2011.
The health care case, State of Oklahoma v. Sebelius, 11-cv-00030, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee), challenges the implementation of the ACA and its ability through the IRS to penalize “large employers” in Oklahoma who do not adhere to the act's “Employer Mandate,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt noted the IRS’s rule would allow it to collect the penalty even though the Affordable Care Act only provides for that penalty to be collected by states which chose to set up an exchange.
Oklahoma did not choose to set up an exchange.
“We believe the merits of the case will stand,” Pruitt said. “No exchange, no penalty. We feel it is an issue of power and authority.”
Pruitt went on to say that this is not the first example of the current administration’s proclivity to overreach a state’s right to self govern.
In this case, Pruitt adds, the IRS rule that allows it to assess the penalty on Oklahoma businesses with over 50 employees isn’t even consistent with what the Affordable Care Act provides in its text.
“Congress provided a choice for Oklahoma and other states in implementation of the health care law, and the IRS is attempting to take that away by rule,” Pruitt said. “The administration miscalculated how many states would support this law, so now they’re using the IRS to push through provisions that Congress did not pass.”
The penalty would amount to $2,000 per employee after the first 30 employees, if the employer does not offer health insurance coverage and even just one of the employees qualifies for a subsidy under the exchange, according to the summary of the OAG’s filing of the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is not intended to be a policy statement,” Pruitt said. “This lawsuit is also not intended to be a political statement. I have been a businessman and I do think we need to have conversation about healthcare. This lawsuit is about the rule of law.”
On another front, Pruitt’s office has recently filed a brief in support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review an Oklahoma abortion case involving a state law - HB 1970 - passed in 2011.
HB 1970 attempted to limit the use of RU486 to the strict FDA protocols it set forth when it approved the drug. HB 1970 was deemed unconstitutional by a lower court and the Oklahoma High Court upheld the lower court’s decision, Pruitt said.
In a bold move, Pruitt’s office requested the U.S. Supreme Court review the case and find in favor of the law restricting the use of the abortion drug, RU486 to the FDA protocols.
The U.S. Supreme Court grants such reviews in less than 1 percent of all cases. We’re grateful for the opportunity to address the court’s questions and defend the state’s ability to enact safeguards to ensure the well-being of Oklahoma women,” Pruitt said.
RU486 is a drug which will cause an abortion when given before 49 days of pregnancy and in line with a strict protocol, along with misoprostol - a drug originally labeled to prevent gastric ulcers, according to the legal brief filed by Pruitt’s office.
Misoprostol has not been approved by the FDA for use in inducing abortions, however it is included as a part of the FDA’s protocol for RU486, according to Pruitt’s legal brief.
Pruitt said Tuesday that there have been eight deaths in the United States because of the use of RU486 outside of the FDA’s guidelines, which include strict physician oversight, return visits and emergency surgical preparedness.
Pruitt noted he wants the nation’s High Court to strike down the ruling of Oklahoma’s high court.
“We have a right to protect the health of our citizens in this state,” he said.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take the case, they asked Oklahoma’s High Court if the spirit of HB 1970 was meant to prohibit the use of misoprostol in abortions, including its concomitant use by the FDA in the protocol for use with RU486.
In Pruitt’s brief, he spelled out, the goal of HB 1970 was only to restrict RU486 to the guidelines given to its use by the FDA.
He stated that as long as misoprostol was used in accordance with the FDA’s guidelines along with RU486, that HB 1970 was not attempting to prohibit its use.
Pruitt said because of the misuse of the drug RU486 and misoprostol, far outside of the FDA’s approved guidelines, there have been deaths.
He stated in his brief that as soon as the drug became available, abortion providers had altered the FDA guidelines including allowing the drugs to be taken at home, not requiring a return checkup to ensure the abortion was complete and even allowing patients to use the drug misoprostol vaginally. Among others, these deviations from the FDA protocols were present in all eight death cases in the U.S., according to the brief.
Pruitt said oral arguments in the case could begin within months.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has also been working to block the overreaching arm of the federal government where the EPA is concerned, Pruitt said.
With regard to hydro-fracking and other environmental energy policies in the state, Pruitt and his staff have filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. They are asking, Pruitt said, for several EPA cases, which he believes could strengthen the state’s assertion that it can and has been for years, regulating hydraulic fracking and other energy activities in the state.
Despite multiple requests that were detailed, the EPA has failed to produce the documents in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, Pruitt said.
“Now we are going to have to” sue them for the information, Pruitt said.
Tuesday, during an earlier meeting, Pruitt discussed his Worker’s Compensation fraud unit. He noted that his office has increased the number of active Worker’s Compensation fraud investigations by 62 percent.
He believes Worker’s Compensation fraud amounts to a crippling impact on Oklahoma business development and he pledged to the attendees of the Worker’s Compensation workshop, offered Tuesday by the Oklahoma State Chamber, to be their partner in fighting that kind of fraud.