Alaska Joins Health Lawsuit To Prevent Feds From Requiring Americans To Buy Gym Memberships, GM Cars

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell with Sarah Palin

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell (R) with Sarah Palin

Alaska is the latest state to sue the federal government over the constitutionality of health care reform, bringing the total number of challenges to 21 (20 have joined the Florida lawsuit, while Virginia has filed its own challenge). Alaska Governor Sean Parnell (R) — who is currently filling in for Sarah Palin but plans to run for a full term in this year — appeared on Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren last night and explained that he was joining the suit to prevent the federal government from ordering Alaskans to buy gym memberships and vehicles from General Motors:

PARNELL: The question really is, should we allow the federal government to require citizens to engage in commerce? You know, your previous people on the show were speaking to that because Congress could now conceivably require all Americans to buy federally approved gym memberships in order to lower obesity and blood pressure rate. Or the attorney general’s memorandum, you know, speculated, you know, they could now order us to buy GM cars under the threat of a tax surcharge so the federal government can better manage its stake in GM. It’s just…

Without mentioning that the Supreme Court has long held that the federal government has the right to regulate commerce or explaining how the lawsuit fits into the current state of law, Parnell argued that the effort is more about liberty, than health care. “I began to realize that we got to stop making this about the health care debate and start making it about our liberty. If those folks who have been on the front lines of — fighting for civil liberties, you know, people to the left of us for years and years, understood that this is about liberty, not about health care, it’s about being mandated to make a choice on a commodity — I think people would take a different view of things,” he told Van Susteren.

I suspect that many Alaskans will still think it’s “about health care.” Alaska is one of the states with the most expensive health insurance in the country, which is the main reason why 19.4% of the residents are without coverage. Chronic health issues such as obesity and prevalence of smokers are relatively high and health care costs have risen faster than the national average. Although Alaska has a fairly robust public health infrastructure — thanks to federal aid — the state does not impose rate restrictions or other regulations on the private health insurance market and a relatively small percentage of employers offer health coverage.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) blasted the governor for ignoring Alaska’s health crisis and spending “countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars” on the frivolous lawsuit.” “That level of state dollars and resources could be better spent keeping our economy healthy, creating jobs for Alaskans and protecting public safety,” he said.

On a related note, Oklahoma may also soon join Alaska in challenging the health law. Leaders of the Oklahoma House and Senate said Tuesday “they plan to sue the U.S. Congress, president and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to prevent provisions of the act President Obama signed into law last month from taking effect.” “A resolution authorizing the legislative leaders to file the lawsuit and allowing Oklahoma residents to opt out of mandated health insurance is heading toward final passage” and the state’s attorney general, who has initially refused to join the case, “said he would join the lawsuit if required by legislative action.”