Monday, February 01, 2010

Alaska Among 39 States Seeking To Ban Mandatory Health Insurance As Prescribed Through "Obamacare"

Update March 22nd: The total is now 39 states; the title has been changed to reflect it.

An Associated Press story published February 1st, 2010 in the Salt Lake Tribune details legislative attempts in 34 states at the time to stop federal health care legislation that would effectively force all Americans to buy health insurance, even though the proposed Federal legislation, tagged as "Obamacare" because of Barack Obama's enthusiastic support for it, appears to have stalled and may end up being derailed. Specifically, the mandate is incorporated into the separate bills passed by the U.S. House and Senate. It would impose a penalty on people who don't have health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. Subsidies would be provided to low-income and middle-income households. The intent of the mandate is to expand the pool of people who are insured and paying premiums and thus offset the increased costs of insuring those with preexisting conditions or other risks.

In general, the various state proposals would assert a state-based right for people to pay medical bills from their own pocketbooks and prohibit penalties against those who refuse to carry health insurance. A complete list of all states pursuing this legislation is available at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) website. ALEC's Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act has served as model legislation for these efforts.

Alaska is one of the 34 states (now 39 as of March 22nd) attempting to stop the Federal mandate. The bill, designated HJR35, proposes amendments to the Alaska State Constitution prohibiting passage of laws that interfere with direct payments for health care services and the right to purchase health care insurance from a privately owned company, and that compel a person to participate in a health care system. The primary sponsor is Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Fairbanks); co-sponsors include Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla), Rep. Peggy Wilson (R-Wrangell), Rep. Carl Gatto (R-Palmer), and Rep. Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks). Read the full text of HJR35 HERE.

Ironically, there's also SB61, a bill sponsored by Senator Hollis French (D-Anchorage) that, if passed, would force all Alaskans to buy health insurance. However, this bill has received no traction in previous legislative sessions.

Supporters of the state measures portray them as a way of defending individual rights and state sovereignty, asserting that the federal government has no authority to tell states and their citizens to buy health insurance. But it's questionable that such the measures could shield state residents from a federal health insurance requirement. "They are merely symbolic gestures," said Michael Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University. "If this Congress were to pass an individual mandate, and if it is constitutional - which I believe it is - the express rule under the supremacy clause (of the U.S. Constitution) is that the federal law prevails." But the Tenth Amendment Center suggests a Federal health care mandate may be, in and of itself, unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, if the Federal government implements "Obamacare" with a mandate in the face of this widespread grass-roots opposition, it will illustrate the divide that exists between the American people and their Federal representatives.

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