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North Dakota Democrats call on Stenehjem to drop from ACA lawsuit

House Minority Leader Rep. Cory Mock, D-Grand Forks, right, answers questions along with Senate assistant minority leader Sen. John Grabinger, at a press conference in Bismarck on Tuesday requesting North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to withdraw from a Texas lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Bismarck Tribune photo

BISMARCK—North Dakota Democrats on Tuesday, Aug. 7, called on Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to withdraw from a 20-state lawsuit asking a Texas federal judge to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

From the Democratic-NPL Party's headquarters in Bismarck, House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, and Senate Assistant Minority Leader John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, described their party's position in asking Stenehjem to withdraw, also submitted in a letter to him.

Mock said he's disappointed with North Dakota's involvement in the lawsuit after the state passed bipartisan Medicaid expansion in 2013.

"To have our attorney general joining another state to effectively challenge a North Dakota law, as the state's attorney general, it is his job to represent and defend the interests of North Dakota and of North Dakota citizens," Mock said.

Grabinger called on state Republican lawmakers, the governor's office and North Dakota's congressional delegation to ask Stenehjem "to remove North Dakota from this potentially damaging lawsuit," which he and Mock said could affect thousands of state residents.

Stenehjem replied that he "will reply formally" to the Democratic-NPL Party, but "the oath I took is to defend the Constitution of the United States, and this statute is unconstitutional."

He also said the Democrats admit the controversial health care law "is not perfect," while he and the party do agree on one "virtually universally popular" aspect, that being coverage for pre-existing conditions. The state of North Dakota may also continue its Medicaid expansion, he added.

Before the ACA, North Dakota had programs, such as the Comprehensive Health Association of North Dakota and the Children's Health Insurance Program, which still exist, but Stenehjem said "need to continue to be available."

He also disputed the Democrats' figure of 316,000 North Dakotans who "would lose the critical ACA safeguards" for which they are eligible, should the lawsuit prevail. The attorney general said before the ACA, 8 percent to 10 percent of North Dakotans didn't have insurance — "virtually the same" as now.

"In addition to that, of course, the cost of premiums have doubled in four years, and they have continued to go up," said Stenehjem, adding that his withdrawal from the lawsuit would not stop the case from proceeding.

He also said no North Dakota tax dollars are "being used to litigate this."

Also this week, Democratic-NPL attorney general candidate David Thompson filed an open records request asking Stenehjem for his correspondence with parties involved in the lawsuit.

"North Dakotans deserve answers as to why he has taken this action, and through this request I hope to find those answers," Thompson said in a press release.