Obamacare Hurdle Is Unfair, Tennesseans Say
NASHVILLE (CN) - Tennessee citizens excited about the new health care law say in court that the state's unconstitutional emergency rules are preventing implementation.
The Tennessee Justice Center filed the complaint on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Tennessee and 10 individuals "whose exercise of their professional responsibilities or First Amendment rights subjects them to the emergency rules and its penalties," according to the complaint.
Tennessee Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance Julie Mix McPeak is named as a defendant, as are the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr.
Central to the dispute are the department's emergency rules, which aim "to regulate the activities of 'navigators' who are designated by federal officials to help implement" the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, the health care reform law requires all Americans to have insurance among other things. Though the U.S. Supreme Court rejected claims that the law was unconstitutional last year, it is still faces strident opposition from Republicans, as evidenced most recently by the partial government shutdown that began Tuesday.
In Tennessee, emergency rules "require fingerprinting, criminal background checks and registration" with the department for those who are not designated as navigators before those individuals and organizations can engage in "constitutionally protected activities," according to the complaint. Those activities include facilitating health care enrollment and providing public education and consumer assistance as it pertains to Obamacare.
Each violation of the rules allegedly carries a fine of $1,000.
Responding to the lawsuit Monday, McPeak said that the rules are in place to protect access to personal and medical information.
"Our focus is on protecting Tennesseans and taking reasonable and responsible steps to provide consumer safeguards," the commissioner said in the statement. "These rules are those reasonable and responsible steps."
Kate Abernathy, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, told Courthouse News that more than 50 individuals and nine organizations started work as registered navigators Tuesday.
The plaintiffs' complaint alleges that the rules are void for a number of reasons. First, the complaint argues that the emergency rules violate separation of powers "by authorizing the executive branch to regulate the practice of law."
Second, the rules "are constitutionally vague and overbroad" because they require individuals and organizations to register and obtain certification "before they can engage in protected First Amendment activities," according to the complaint. Finally, the rules allegedly "conflict with federal law" because they prevent "individuals from being able to obtain federally funded and authorized consumer assistance and information."
Another reason the rules are void is because McPeak implemented them without the required 30 days' notice and public hearing, according to the complaint.
Abernathy says Chancellor Russell Perkins threw that claim out as grounds for a restraining order Monday. The complaint was filed Friday.
The plaintiffs ask that the court declare the emergency rules "void and of no effect," as well as attorneys' fees.
They are represented by Christopher Coleman of the Tennessee Justice Center.