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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – A lawsuit challenging the legal right of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee to use an executive order to create the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange was filed on Thursday in Superior Court by the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion advocacy group affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee.
The lawsuit was filed two days after Rhode Island was praised for its leadership in establishing its health insurance benefits exchange as part of health care reform, the first state in the nation to apply and receive $58 million Level Two federal funding to help to create the infrastructure for the exchange.
The lawsuit claims that the executive order attempted to bypass the R.I. General Assembly, disenfranchising its members, which failed to pass enabling legislation for the exchange in its last session, according to the group’s news release. The group has retained lawyer Joseph S. Larisa Jr., to handle the challenge.
“We stand against Gov. Chafee’s extra-constitutional attempt to force Rhode Islanders to subsidize other people’s abortions under the guise of health care reform,” the group’s executive director, Barth E. Bracy, said in a news release.
The lawsuit was not unexpected by the Chafee administration, which issued a joint statement from Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts. “Lt. Gov. Roberts and I remain confident in our legal position and comfortable with the path we have taken to establish Rhode Island’s Health Benefits Exchange,” the release said. “Without our action to establish this exchange, Rhode Island would have missed out on more than $58 million in funding and would have, instead, had a one-size-fits-all, generic system imposed on it by the federal government.”
“The complaint filed today jeopardizes this important funding and threatens our state’s ability to develop a unique system that is custom-made for Rhode Island and fits the unique needs of the people of our state,” Chafee said in the statement. “The ultimate goal of this process is to provide access to affordable, high-quality healthcare to all Rhode Islanders – and I am pleased to say that we are on our way to achieving that goal.”