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US files to dismiss Oklahoma health care lawsuit

Tim Talley, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's lawsuit challenging the federal health care overhaul amounts only to a "difference of opinion" and should be dismissed, lawyers for the federal government say.

Pruitt is challenging the health care law's implementation. Lawyers for the federal government filed papers Monday urging U.S. District Judge Ronald White to throw out the case. They said that Pruitt has asked the court to resolve "abstract questions of political power, of sovereignty, of government" involving the Affordable Care Act rather than litigate personal or property rights or sovereign rights that are actually threatened,

"Oklahoma's reading of the Affordable Care Act presents only a 'difference of opinion' between the state and the federal government, not a case or controversy," the motions filed in U.S. District Court in Muskogee states. "Under these principles, Oklahoma lacks standing to litigate any of the counts in its amended complaint."

The government's motion says that while the state's lawsuit is creative at times, it offers nothing more than conjecture and speculation while challenging the new health care law. The motion says the state does not have legal standing to sue the federal government on behalf of its citizens "because the federal government is presumed to represent the state's citizens."

Pruitt, a Republican former state senator and frequent critic of federal government policies under Democratic President Barack Obama, filed the lawsuit in January 2011 shortly after he took office. It challenged the constitutionality of the federal law and its requirement that all Americans purchase private health insurance or pay a penalty.

But the case remained dormant while the U.S. Supreme Court decided a separate lawsuit filed earlier by Florida and 25 other states that also challenged the law and its individual mandate. In a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court upheld the health care law on June 28.

Pruitt amended his lawsuit to challenge a new Internal Revenue Service rule that will help implement the law. The amended complaint seeks recognition that a voter-approved amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution protects citizens from mandated purchases of health care.

It also alleges that federal regulations and plans to create online insurance marketplaces do not comply with the Administrative Procedures Act and should be invalidated.

The insurance exchanges, a key component of the health care law, will allow people to shop for health insurance and buy policies. Oklahoma and some other Republican-controlled states have resisted setting up new online marketplaces. The law allows the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary to establish exchanges in states that choose not to.

The lawsuit alleges the law is unconstitutional because it gives the government control over state legislative and executive power, exceeds Congress' authority and infringes on state sovereignty.

Pruitt said the state's lawsuit is not about the policy or politics of the Affordable Care Act.

"It is about the legality of the IRS rule and ensuring that the federal government complies with implementation of its own law," Pruitt said in a statement.

The attorney general's office has until Dec. 31 to reply to the government's motion.