CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A Nevada oversight panel chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons gave initial approval Tuesday to $279,000 in startup planning costs for the federal health reform law Gibbons intends to challenge on constitutional grounds.
The state Board of Examiners approved the emergency funding that Gibbons called the "tip of the iceberg" in expenses Nevada can expect if the law stands. The funding request now goes to the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee for final approval.
The Republican governor and Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who also serves on the board, have publicly sparred over Gibbons' directive that Nevada join more than a dozen other states in challenging the federal law pushed by President Barack Obama.
Masto refused, and Gibbons last week signed an executive order appointing Las Vegas attorney Mark Hutchison to represent Nevada and join the suit filed in Florida. Hutchison said he will work for free, and Masto has said her office is reviewing its options on whether to oppose the governor's legal move.
Gibbons argues the law is unconstitutional because it requires people to buy insurance from a private vendor or face penalties enforced by the Internal Revenue Service. Masto has said the Constitution gives Congress broad powers to regulate and spend for the general welfare.
At Tuesday's meeting, Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said roughly 525,000 Nevadans currently lack health insurance and must be covered by 2015.
He projected the number of Medicaid recipients, low-income residents who receive medical care through the state, will swell from 260,000 to more than 400,000 by 2014 when eligibility standards are eased or people who otherwise qualify but have so far shunned the program enroll. The program could cost Nevada $575 million between now and 2019, he said.
Gibbons said while he'll press forward with the lawsuit, he would not put the state "in direct violation of the law," and so also supported the emergency funding request.
Willden said total costs for implementing the law "will be huge." He cited the need for updated information systems, estimated at $38 million, that will be needed to handle bigger case loads.
He added that the state must decide by the end of April if it will establish a "high-risk pool" to provide coverage for people unable to qualify for other insurance, join pools in other states or leave that task to the federal government.