States battle feds on health care
Some states are trying to block key parts of President Obama's health care plan, which could spark a legal fight. National Conference of State LegislaturesNote: Data as of March 5.Some states are trying to block key parts of President Obama's health care plan, which could spark a legal fight. In a backlash against President Obama's health care legislation that stretches from Virginia to California, lawmakers in more than two-thirds of the states are scrambling to undercut the bill before it even passes Congress.Earlier this month, Virginia became the first state to pass a law allowing its residents to opt out of the proposed federal requirement that everyone have health insurance, a key element of Obama's plan. Legislatures in Utah and Idaho this month also approved measures limiting the scope of the proposed $950 billion health care bill pending in Congress. A host of other state legislatures also are considering new laws and promoting constitutional amendments that would limit federal requirements. Most follow Virginia's lead in nullifying the mandate on health insurance. Obama's bill would expand health coverage to 31 million Americans who currently don't have it and impose new regulations on the insurance industry.
The state measures are likely to be challenged in court, setting up new legal battles over whether federal law can trump state laws."If there are enough states or people refusing to comply … what's the federal government going to do?" says Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center, a non-partisan think tank in Los Angeles that advocates individual and states' rights.The federal mandate is designed to help reduce costs by bringing young, healthy people into the health insurance pool. Opponents say it unfairly infringes on individual rights and freedom.Some legal scholars say the state laws don't stand a chance in court."These laws are sort of legally meaningless and meant to have a predominantly political impact," says Wake Forest University law professor Mark Hall, an expert in health care law and policy. He says federal laws typically trump state laws, making the health care efforts in the states little more than "a form of civil disobedience."States' rights proponents are undaunted. They say the recent victory in Virginia has only increased momentum for the proposals, all of which they intend to defend in court."Congress lacks constitutional authority to regulate commerce in a way that would compel individuals to purchase government-approved health insurance,"
says lawyer Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank and law firm.The issue goes to Arizona voters in November, when they will be asked to amend the state's constitution to say that no "person or employer" can be compelled to participate in a health care system or insurance plan or pay a penalty for not participating. Obama's plan would impose penalties on individuals who don't have health insurance and on some employers who don't provide such coverage.The Arizona measure passed the state Legislature in June. Republican Rep. Nancy Barto, who sponsored the bill against the federal mandate in the state House, says she expects the ballot initiative to pass — and she expects a legal challenge."We are ready to fight that battle for the sake of all the states that are doing this," Barto says.Among those also working on legislation or constitutional amendments:• Utah, where Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is considering whether to sign a bill requiring any state agency seeking to comply with a new federal health care law to first ask lawmakers for permission.• Idaho, where Republican Gov. Butch Otter is expected to sign a bill that says "every person within the state of Idaho is and shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty."• Florida, where lawmakers are proposing a constitutional amendment that would forbid any federal law from requiring any "person, employer or health-care provider to participate in any health care system."• Louisiana, where a proposed law would make it a misdemeanor with a $500 penalty for any state or local official who "attempts to coerce any individual to purchase health insurance."State Sen. A.G. Crowe, a Republican, has asked the Louisiana attorney general to consider suing the federal government for "unnecessary intrusion."Richard Cauchi of the National Conference of State Legislatures says it's too soon to say whether a majority of states will follow through and pass new laws or adopt constitutional amendments. Proponents should know by the end of May whether their movement "has legs," he says, because by then, only a dozen state legislatures will still be in session.