By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Twenty-six states challenging President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare overhaul filed a U.S. Supreme Court brief on Tuesday arguing the law unconstitutionally expands the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.
By threatening a loss of federal funds, Congress unconstitutionally coerced states into expanding their Medicaid programs, the states led by Florida argued. They said states have no real alternative but to keep participating in Medicaid.
"Forcing states to vastly expand their Medicaid programs or risk losing all funding is an abuse of federal authority," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement, calling it an "overreach of government power."
The Obama administration brief on the Medicaid issue is due by February 10. Administration attorneys previously have rejected any suggestion the Medicaid provision was unconstitutional. A federal judge and an appeals court ruled against the states.
The Obama administration filed its main brief in the legal battle on Friday and said Congress was within its constitutional powers in requiring Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. Known as the individual mandate, it is the centerpiece of the health care law.
The 26 states and an independent business group challenging the law both argued in their submissions to the court on Friday that the entire law must fall if the mandate is struck down.
The Supreme Court has scheduled three days of oral arguments in the legal battle for March 26-28, with an election-year ruling expected by the end of June.
The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.
(Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Jackie Frank)