North Dakota’s Insurance Commissioner Has Assisted in Stenehjem’s Health Care Lawsuit

It seems history continues to be left out of reports and statements supporting the latest attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act. With the increasing talk of state flexibility, we must point out what the North Dakota Legislature rejected in 2011. With the political party projection, we must highlight campaigns and self-described “symbolic” votes. That history is in plain sight if you look hard enough.

Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread backs Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s entrance in a lawsuit to overturn the ACA. In fact, he admits to assisting Stenehjem in the lawsuit. Godfread’s stated reasoning deserves scrutiny. Stenehjem has said North Dakota taxpayers are not paying to litigate this lawsuit. However, if Godfread and his office have “assisted him along the way” in the lawsuit as he states, then are we not paying to push this forward?


The fallback talking point used repeatedly is states need more flexibility. I agree with that now, just as I agreed with it back when ACA was passed. That is why the law included the option for states to create their own state-run health insurance exchange. In 2011, the Republican Legislature rejected that option of greater flexibility simply because they didn’t want to be viewed as supporting ACA. “I certainly am not going to legitimize Obamacare with my vote.” Rep. Wes Belter said at the time. “It is the law, but the fight should not be over.”

The state-run exchanges were intended to offer assistance to people who didn’t have coverage and small businesses that could not afford to extend health benefits to their employees. Our state would have had flexibility in those decisions and could have targeted benefits towards farmers, ranchers, and small businesses had they took advantage of it. Its rejection was a short-sighted decision by the Legislature in 2011 all because of partisan politics.

Thankfully, in 2013 the Legislature approved Medicaid Expansion. The move extended coverage for individuals who did not have insurance previously and helped hospitals with their bottom lines. Rural hospitals were given a needed lifeline. That increase in people covered is now being used by Godfread and Stenehjem to brag about the percentage of North Dakotan’s with health insurance. It is a program that could be threatened by the lawsuit they are jointly working on.

Lastly, to see a spokesperson from the NDGOP say that health care is an “election issue they [Democrats] can exploit,” is utterly laughable. Who was it that ran on “repeal and replace” since 2010? Rick Berg, John Hoeven, and Kevin Cramer. Cramer admitted on live radio the sixty plus votes he took to “repeal and replace” were “symbolic.” After exploiting the issue for yet another election in 2016, they couldn’t get it done because they have no legitimate replacement plan. Now, they’d rather people not talk about health care during an election. It is rather telling about their seriousness.

Improvements to the health care law are needed. Nobody has disputed that and improvements should be the course taken by elected officials. Unfortunately, some of the shortfalls being used to justify a lawsuit to overturn the entire law are a direct result of their own obstruction. When those politicians implemented some of the options granted to them under the law, they were successful. Look no further than Medicaid Expansion.

Tyler Axness
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