Port Angeles man plaintiff in national health care lawsuit that also includes 26 states

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Kaj Ahlburg, a retired New York City investment banker who lives in Port Angeles, is among those suing the federal government over a new health care law in a case his lawyer said Thursday is sure to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ahlburg, 51, has joined with the National Federation of Independent Business, Mary Brown of Florida and 26 states, including Washington, in challenging the landmark Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which President Barack Obama signed into law March 30, 2010.

Their lawsuit contends that the law encroaches on individual liberties by requiring individuals to have health insurance and on state sovereignty by "forcing" states "to operate a wholly refashioned Medicaid program," according to the lawsuit.

Ahlburg, who has lived on the North Olympic Peninsula with his wife, Laura, and their children since 2003, is the newly elected president of the Port Angeles Business Association and a former member of the now-defunct Harbor-Works Development Authority board of directors.

A corporate finance lawyer before he was an investment banker, Ahlburg said Thursday that on the advice of his attorney, David Rivkin of Washington, D.C., he could not comment on the case.

"Some day I can talk more about it, but right now, I have to follow that advice," Ahlburg said.

"My views in general have been on the record, in letters to the editor."

In a prescient March 29, 2010, letter to Peninsula Daily News, one day before President Obama signed the new law, Ahlburg challenged it as "blatantly unconstitutional," in particular the requirement that individuals buy health care insurance.

While 32 million Americans who cannot afford health care coverage or who have been shut out of the market eventually will have insurance under the law, most Americans who don't buy coverage will face a penalty of $95 in 2014 that rises to $695 in 2016.

"It would be akin to requiring us to buy certain kinds of food or rent certain kinds of housing the federal government designates," Ahlburg said in his letter to the editor.

"Each individual citizen has standing to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and many undoubtedly will . . ."

Brown, 55, owns Brown & Dockery Inc., a car repair business in Panama City, Fla.

She would not comment Thursday on the lawsuit, referring questions to Rivkin, but said she does not know Ahlburg.

The case is "one of the most important cases in American history," said Rivkin, a lead lawyer for all those challenging law.

"It most certainly go all the way to the Supreme Court."

Rivkin said "a number of people contacted us" to join as plaintiffs."

Rivkin could not remember how Ahlburg came to his attention.

But he stood out during several interviews that fleshed out his interest in the lawsuit, Rivkin said.

"I was struck by his conviction and sincerity and belief in constitutional principles."

Rivkin would not comment on whether Ahlburg was paying legal fees to have Rivkin represent him as a plaintiff in the case, saying that information was confidential.

For purposes of the lawsuit, Brown, 55, a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, represents the interests of small-business owners, Rivkin said.

Under the new law, beginning in 2014, businesses with more than 50 employees will be required to have health insurance for their employees.

Ahlburg, for his part, represents the 300 million individual Americans who will be required to have coverage, Rivkin said.

"He is impacted as a individual," Rivkin said. "It all boils down to individual liberty, which is not often understood."

The lawsuit was initiated by the state of Florida March 23, 2010, in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, and was later joined by the other parties.

Ahlburg's name was added as a plaintiff in an amended complaint filed May 14, 2010.

Ahlburg has not had health insurance for more than six years "and has no intention or desire to have health care insurance in the future," according to the amended complaint.

"Mr. Ahlburg is and reasonably expects to remain financially able to pay for his own health care services if and as needed," the complaint said.

"He does not qualify for Medicaid under the Act or Medicare and does not expect to qualify for them prior to the Act's individual mandate taking effect.

"Mr. Ahlburg will be subject to the mandate and objects to being forced to comply with it, and objects to the Act's unconstitutional overreaching and its encroachment on the States' sovereignty."

A second amended complaint filed Tuesday added six states as plaintiffs to bring the total to 26.

On Wednesday, the House voted to repeal the health care reform law, but the Senate is controlled by a Democratic majority.

Senate leaders said they will not act on the repeal measure, according to The New York Times, which also said the lawsuit is likely to reach the Supreme Court.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson of Florida's Northern District is expected to rule on the lawsuit next week, Val Harmon, Vinson's secretary, said Thursday.

Vinson and his law clerks "are working on it," she said.

Rivkin said he expects the case will be appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and be decided by the Supreme Court in mid-2012.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 20. 2011 11:37PM
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