Could allow for additional court challenges to “Obama-care”
The state House Health Committee passed a bill Monday to remove Pennsylvania from the individual mandate portion of the nation health care reform law with a party-line vote.
The bill, H.B. 42, would prohibit the government from enacting or adopting any law to penalize any individual, employer or health care provider for participating in a health care system of their choosing. Health Committee Chair Matthew Baker (R-Tioga), the bill’s sponsor, said it protects Pennsylvania citizens from potential federal penalties if they choose to ignore the individual mandate in the federal health care law passed last year.
“It protects a person’s right to participate, or not, in any health care system,” said Mr. Baker. “It provides a state-level defense against the federal government’s excessive power.”
State Reps. Matthew Baker (R-Tioga), left, and John Myers (D-Philadelphia), center, are the chairs of the House Health Committee.
Democrat members of the committee unsuccessfully tried to table the legislation. Two attempts to offer amendments were also defeated with straight party-line votes.
State Rep. John Myers (D-Philadelphia) said the bill would violate the U.S. Constitution because states cannot overrule federal laws.
“I believe that H.B. 42 is wrong,” said Mr. Myers. “This mandate that we’re proposing today will literally say that Pennsylvanians cannot participate in the federal program.”
Mr. Baker said the bill does not nullify or repeal the federal law in Pennsylvania but only eliminates the individual mandate contained within.
“It does not attempt to block the implementation of the federal law, as long as the federal law does not block the individual employer mandate,” said Mr. Baker.
He said the bill also does not block access to Medicaid, Medicare or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Mr. Myers said he did not believe the individual mandate could be separated from the health care law as a whole.
“I can’t act like the 800-pound gorilla is not in the room,” said Mr. Myers.
He said the bill would also have a negative fiscal impact on the state and could hurt state-level insurance programs such as the Pennsylvania Fair Care program.
The bill will next be referred to the House Appropriations Committee, according to Steve Miskin, House Republican spokesperson.
Mr. Baker conceded the fate of the controversial federal health care law will likely be settled in the Supreme Court, but said his bill gave Pennsylvania grounds for an additional challenge to the constitutionality of the law in the event the Supreme Court upholds the federal law. He pointed to the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as grounds for Pennsylvania to legally affirm the state’s right to block part of the federal law through further litigation if the bill is passed into law.
The federal penalties for not purchasing health insurance will begin in 2014 and will be handled by the Internal Revenue Service.
Tow federal judges have ruled the reforms constitutional and two judges have ruled against it. In the most recent decision, Florida federal district Judge Roger Vinson last week ruled the law unconstitutional in its entirety because the Constitution does not allow the federal government to regulate and punish economic inactivity, such as the decision not to purchase health insurance.
The Florida case was brought by the attorneys general of 26 states, including Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the state onto the lawsuit last year while he was attorney general.
Mr. Baker pointed to the decision Mr. Vinson as upholding the “view held by a majority of American citizens.”
“The government should not be in the business of forcing you to buy health insurance and punishing you if you do not,” said Mr. Baker. He said he agrees with other parts of the federal health care law.
The model legislation for H.B. 42 was drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council and has been introduced in 25 states. Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana and Idaho have passed the bill into law while Oklahoma and Arizona have passed it as a constitutional amendment.