With the fate of a federal health care plan up in the air, Oklahoma legislators are anticipating and drafting legislation opting out of any federal health care plan. Both the House Rules Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee have cleared four pieces of legislation earlier this month to be heard by the full House and Senate.
House Joint Resolution 1054, known as the "Freedom of Healthcare Choice Act," is an attempt to not take a step backward when it comes to health care reform, said Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, one of the resolution's authors.
Modeled after similar legislation from Arizona, the resolution is a proposed constitutional amendment allowing citizens of the state to opt out of a federal health care plan. If the resolution is passed and the amendment is voted into the Oklahoma Constitution, it would prohibit any law or rule from directly or indirectly compelling a person or employer to participate in any health care system, allowing both the individual and the health care provider to do business without penalties or fines and allow citizens to maintain private health insurance.
"(Freedom of Healthcare Choice Act) is to allow our citizens to have a simple choice, if 'Obama-care' is passed, that they can opt out without being fined or threatened with prison sentences," Ritze said.
Ritze said "Obama-care," as he calls the possible federal health care plan, is a euphemism for a combination of several federal bills with single-payer option, similar to the Canadian system.
"(HJR 1054) would allow them (patients) to continue purchasing health care directly and choosing their own family doctor," Ritze said. "We have seen the Massachusetts plan, and it has been a horrendous failure, raising the costs when it should have lowered it, and the 'Obama-care' plans are patterned very much after the Massachusetts plans."
Senators are also anticipating the possibility of a federal health care system. Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, proposed Senate Joint Resolution 58, another opt-out measure, and Senate Joint Resolution 64, petitioning the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the federal government if it enacts a federal health care plan. Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, authored Senate Joint Resolution 59, another amendment to opt out.
Coffee said in the Feb. 11 Health and Human Services Committee that, with the passing of these types of opt-out bills, the state will benefit more than through a federally mandated one.
Whereas HJR 1054 met with little resistance from the Rules Committee, passing by an 11-1 margin, the three proposals were not met with bipartisan support in the health committee. In committee, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, asked Coffee why Oklahoma so opposed to reform.
"(This is) an environment of anger toward this current administration," Johnson said. "There have been many health care bills before that have failed, but none of them have received this kind of opposition, and it makes me wonder, 'Why now, when people are suffering?'"
Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, asked why legislators were not finding alternatives to the federal health care plan and proposing those ideas instead of opting out entirely.
"Our system is killing between (20,000) and 40,000 Americans each year in the prime of life because we deny treatment for treatable disease," Adelson said. "In other countries, it's true, they don't cover everything, but they cover everybody, and they have results that put our system to shame.
"Bring us substantive ideas; we're open to them. If you want market-based reform, bring them, but stop the cheap grandstanding of the empty slogans. Work with us, because I'm sick of it."
Along with Oklahoma, 36 other states have introduced similar legislation in an attempt to override the federal government's possible health care plan. While legislators continue to work on these measures, constitutional law experts say they may be ineffective if a federal mandate is passed.
"The states are trying to use their laws to nullify the federal government, an echo of an old argument made by John C. Calhoun," University of Oklahoma law professor Rick Tepker said. Calhoun was the seventh vice president and a supporter of states' rights. "What I think is going (on) is an ideological faction is borrowing from some old, discredited, extreme rhetoric."
While Tepker said the Constitution's supremacy clause will overrule the state laws, Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos said Congress may hit a stumbling block if the federal government mandated the state government to regulate the health care system. While federal law trumps state law, it cannot force a state legislature to go against its own constitution, Spiropoulos said. However, if the federal laws mandate individuals rather than a legislature, the legislature is overturned by the federal government.
Both also agreed that Sen. Coffee's attempt at a possible lawsuit against the federal government is more of a "rallying cry" to build political support.
"I don't think it a responsible thing to do," Tepker said. "The legislators "¦ take an oath to withhold the Constitution of the United States as well as the Constitution of Oklahoma, they are under some obligation to look at that federal constitutional law and figure out what they can and cannot do."
Tepker said if state and federal legislation are passed, the conflict will be dealt with in federal courts. Spiropoulos said if the federal government and state government are not in conflict with one another, it will become a power play between the Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature.
"Congress will say, 'If this law passes in a lot places, we'll tie a lot of money into it, forcing the state to chose between following this law and losing a ton of money,'" Spiropoulos said. "The states would have a hard time resisting, but if they mean what they say and they have the courage of their convictions, they will turn the money down and follow their law." "LeighAnne Manwarren
photo Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, said he wants to opt out of "Obama-care."