Update: Deal, Olens praise judge’s ruling

Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens vowed to continue pushing the state’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, in the wake of a judge’s ruling that the new reform law is unconstitutional.

Georgia is one of 26 states whose lawsuit was heard by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who said Monday that the reform law, by requiring people to buy health insurance, violates the Constitution.

“Today marks a major victory for Georgia taxpayers and for all Americans concerned about the unconstitutional mandates in the Obamacare legislation,” Deal said at a news conference. “The federal government doesn’t have the right to demand that Americans purchase a product.’’

Deal added that the law ‘’is an unfunded mandate that will cripple our state budget by flooding our Medicaid system.”

Olens, who joined the lawsuit after he took office in January, said he expects the case to be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court. “This case is about protecting our Constitution, which limits the powers of the federal government, and protecting Georgia taxpayers from the overwhelming costs the law would impose,” Olens said.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who voted with the majority when the House recently passed legislation to repeal the law, said, “I hope today’s ruling encourages Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to do the right thing and bring up our repeal legislation in the Senate.” Westmoreland said the Senate “should do the right thing, scrap this law and start over with common-sense reforms.’’

But Reid, a Nevada Democrat, criticized the ruling. “This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt by those who want to raise taxes on small businesses, increase prescription prices for seniors and allow insurance companies to once again deny sick children medical care,” Reid said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

A Georgia consumer advocacy group said several provisions of the health reform law have already been implemented and proved effective. The law “is working for many people and has already improved many lives,’’ said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future.

She cited provisions of reform that include tax credits for small businesses to purchase health insurance; adult children being allowed to stay on their parents’ health plan till age 26; and financial help for seniors to afford prescription drugs.

Zeldin also said the Affordable Care Act provides relief for the Georgia budget by funding reinsurance for retirees in the state employees’ health plan.  “We’ll see what happens in the Supreme Court,’’ she said. “We believe it’s constitutional.’’

Meanwhile, the AJC reported Monday that the Justice Department has 30 days to appeal the Vinson ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The 12-member court has one vacancy, the AJC said. President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a replacement for Judge Stanley Birch, who retired last year. Birch was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. As it stands now, the 11th Circuit has six judges who were appointed by Republican presidents and five appointed by Democratic presidents. Obama’s eventual nominee, if confirmed, would make the numbers even.