States Attempt to Counter HealthCare Reform via Bills and Constitutional Amendments

March 19, 2010

Reuters is reporting that at least 36 state legislatures have introduced bills or resolutions designed to either limit or oppose various aspects of the healhcare reform plan that Congress is still trying to pass. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, momentum is growing in many states to block the changes either by laws or amendments to state constitutions. In the words of Michael Bird, legislative counsel for the NCSL, “There’s going to be a big free-for-all lawsuit about this.”

The United States House of Representatives is due to vote on the healthcare overhaul, one that would require all Americans to have health insurance but would also provide subsidies to help low- and middle-income workers, this Sunday. The new plan would also ban common insurance practices like refusing coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

According to the NCSL, the state-level opposition efforts, “…in general … seek to make or keep health insurance optional, and allow people to purchase any type of coverage they may choose.”

Earlier today, Democratic House leaders expressed their growing confidence about winning a close vote. If the healthcare reform bill passes the House, it only has to pass the Senate by a simple majority, under the planned procedure regarding the legislation.

Not unlike the partisan politics that have been present during the entire federal process, the state attempts to block healthcare reform are more likely to be present – and successful – in states where Republicans have control of at least one legislative chamber, and of the governor’s office, but so far only two states, Virginia and Idaho, have actually enacted laws, though there is a constitutional amendment that will come before the voters of Arizona this November. In states like New York and Illinois, where the Democrats dominate, there is no such anti-health care reform legislation, at least according to the NCSL.

On Wednesday, Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho, signed a bill allowing the state’s attorney general to file a lawsuit opposing the federal healthcare legislation which requires individual citizens to purchase medical insurance.

Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian says that the Idaho governor feels that the federal plan is “overreaching,” and likely to increase the medical expenses of state governments. “He’s concerned we can’t afford it,” Hanian said. He also added that the Republican Otter is “…disappointed in how the Democrat-led U.S. Congress is handling the legislation.”

On Thursday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was dismissive of the states’ complaints. According to the latest version of the bill, all states would receive additional funding to cover the Medicaid costs expected to increase as a resuld of the reform, including 100% federal coverage for new enrollees through 2016. Medicaid is jointly administered by the federal and state governments, and provides healthcare to the poor.

Nevertheless, the states are concerned that they will have to be responsible for the cost of healthcare, and believe that the reforms infringe on their powers under the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights., which says, “…powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states.”

Gibbs is firm that the tenth amendment is not being breeched, saying, “What we’re about to pass and sign into law will meet Constitutional muster,” he said.