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North Dakota insurance commissioner backs attorney general in overturning Affordable Care Act

BISMARCK—North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread says he supports Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's entry into a Texas federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

In a letter on Tuesday, North Dakota's Democratic-NPL Party called for Stenehjem to withdraw from the 20-state lawsuit, citing consequences for the state's Medicaid expansion and state residents afforded protections by the federal health care law. Godfread said his department has filed an affidavit in the case, outlining issues he sees in North Dakota.

"In short order, we are extremely supportive of the attorney general continuing this lawsuit and have assisted him along the way," he said.

Godfread invoked the group of residents in North Dakota — largely small business owners, farmers and ranchers — who don't qualify for an individual market subsidy as having "taken the brunt of the impact of the ACA."

North Dakota had "a robust marketplace" before the ACA, with options for residents with pre-existing conditions, according to Godfread. He said about the same percentage of state residents are uninsured as before the ACA became law — 8 percent to 10 percent — amid a larger state population.

"I will argue until I am blue in the face that, prior to the ACA, we didn't have the problems that the ACA sought to fix," he said, pointing to new problems, including cost increases.

Godfread's department is underway in a study with an outside firm to find any flexibility in the state's insurance market, with findings to come this fall. His department is also exploring what changes might need to be made on the state level should the Texas suit prevail but "we're years away from a decision on this case," Godfread said.

He also leveled criticism at state Democrats in their figure of 316,000 North Dakota residents with pre-existing conditions who "would lose the critical ACA safeguards which grant them access to affordable health care insurance coverage." Godfread called that figure "downright irresponsible."

"To stand there and say that roughly just under half of our citizens are at risk if this lawsuit's successful is factually inaccurate, and I don't know where they got that number," the first-term Republican said.

Democratic-NPL spokesman Alex Rich said the party sourced the number of North Dakota residents with pre-existing conditions from the Center for American Progress.

Godfread said 84 percent of North Dakota residents receive health insurance coverage through employers or a government program, such as Medicaid or Medicare.

The state Republican Party also bit back at the Democratic-NPL letter. NDGOP spokesman Jake Wilkins called the ACA "an election issue" that Democrats see "they can exploit."

"As the liberal left continues to play politics by promoting this harmful legislation, Republicans will focus on pushing health care solutions for North Dakotans that will lower premiums, expand available options and protect those with pre-existing conditions," he said in a statement.