With Democrats moving ever-closer to moving healthcare reform across the legislative finish line, initiatives to block that reform on the state-level have expanded to 38 states, according to a conservative organization promoting the so-called Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act.
Virginia earlier this month became the first state in the nation to enact legislation that would block a federal mandate that all Americans purchase health coverage. Such a mandate is a key component of the reform legislation now in the final stages of the legislative process on Capitol Hill. The federal healthcare reform legislation would widen Medicaid enrollment and offer subsidies to help Americans comply with the coverage requirement.
The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) says it has identified 37 states in addition to Virginia that have similar bills pending or have announced that they will introduce legislation to block the proposed federal coverage mandate.
Under the legislation, any state attempt to require an individual to purchase health insurance—or forbid an individual from purchasing services outside of the required health care system—would be rendered unconstitutional, according to ALEC, which says that its mission is to advance the “principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”
The Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act has already been filed or prefiled in 33 states—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, ALEC says in a statement. Lawmakers in an additional four states—Montana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Utah—have publicly announced their intentions to file the legislation. A citizen-led initiative has also been announced in Colorado, the organization adds.
AARP, the retirees’ membership organization and lobby group, has been outspoken at the national and state levels in advocating for federal healthcare reform. AARP, particularly, fought the enactment of the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act in Idaho. AARP says it will wreak havoc on Idaho‘s health care system — and result in higher insurance premiums, while costing the state both money and jobs. “This bill does nothing to address the real issues Idahoans struggle with when it comes to health care – rising premiums, high prescription drug costs and unaffordable health care – and everything to make matters worse,” says Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP in Idaho. “The fighting on this issue that has kept Idahoans from getting the health care relief they need has come home to roost – that’s bad news for families, businesses and the elderly in our state.” In a statement, AARP says the Idaho bill:
- Does nothing to address the real health care problems Idahoans face, high prescription drug and insurance prices, and the high cost of health care.
- Contradicts existing state policy that requires all full-time students at state colleges and universities to carry health insurance — without it they can’t enroll.
- Ties the hands of Idaho legislators with a permanent state law taking aim at a non-existent federal one, which could prevent action on needed state health care issues.
- Will engage Idaho in costly litigation with little chance for success.
- Could cost the state over $1.6 billion in federal matching funds for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), compromising the coverage for 260,000 Idahoans and losing thousands of state health care jobs.
- Destabilizes Idaho‘s carefully constructed regulations for the insurance industry.
- May prevent state regulators from addressing health insurance and health plan issues – leaving premiums, deductibles and co-pays subject to even greater increases.
- Puts at risk Idaho‘s bid for the U.S. Air Force F-35 fighter-jet project — this bill sends mixed messages, while telling the federal government to stay out of the state with one hand, with the other we’re urging them to come and spend billions of dollars in Idaho and bring thousands of jobs.
Meanwhile, AARP says that Idaho is home to 221,000 uninsured Americans, while health premiums are expected to increase by 40 percent in the next few years and double by 2016. Some 400,000 Idahoans spend 10 percent of their income on health care while roughly 100,000 spend upwards of 25 percent, AARP adds.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.