Bill would nix compulsory health care

Published 5:46 pm Thursday, May 20, 2010

Staff Writer

A bill filed for consideration in the N.C. Senate would make it illegal for the government to compel people to buy health-care coverage in the state, but even the prime backer of the proposed legislation acknowledges the measure is a political longshot.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Jim Forrester, R-Gaston, would allow state voters to decide whether to amend the N.C. Constitution to outlaw fines or penalties that would be levied against North Carolina people or businesses that don’t buy health insurance.
The bill also would scrap mandatory participation in any health-care system.
Forrester’s effort, a largely symbolic one, mirrors past attempts by House and Senate Republicans calling for a state-level constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
“The intent of this bill is a constitutional amendment to opt out of the (President Barack) Obama health-care plan,” Forrester told the Washington Daily News in a telephone interview.
State Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, president pro tempore of the Senate, has resisted the gay-marriage vote because state law already forbids gay marriage.
It appears that Forrester’s bill will have no more success than the almost-perennial drive for a gay-marriage ban, which Forrester is pushing for again this year, a fact that he brought up in the interview.
“It was just a statement saying that I thought we ought to be able to handle our own health-care needs without the federal government coming in,” he said.
It’s doubtful the bill will be taken up by the full Senate in the short session, which, on the whole, is held to consider budget matters, Forrester noted.
Forrester’s bill reads like a well-placed activist’s response to the U.S. Senate’s Christmas Eve 2009 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
An altered version of that legislation was signed into law in March by President Barack Obama.
The congressional act was expected to extend health coverage to millions of Americans, resulting in the coverage of 94 percent of United States citizens.
The act could end up costing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Many conservatives and even some moderates object to the scope of the health-care overhaul, which they maintain is too costly and intrusive.
The N.C. Republican Party, bolstered by GOP elected officials, called on N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper to join other states that are suing to stop the health-care overhaul from taking hold. Cooper declined to pursue that course, a decision that was supported by numerous Democratic officials in Raleigh and elsewhere.
According to a recent online report from Reuters news service, 20 states and a national business lobbying organization are suing to stop health-care reform in its present form.
Forrester’s state bill, another attempt to stop reform, has seven co-sponsors, all Republicans.
Asked whether he had been contacted by any opposing or supportive advocacy groups, Forrester replied by saying, “Nobody at all has contacted me about it either way, one way or the other.”
Asked whether the bill has a chance of making it to the Senate floor, he said, “Probably not.”
“I’m a Republican,” Forrester said. “The Democrats control the Senate, the Democrats control the governor’s mansion, they control the attorney general’s office, and the Democrats don’t want to offend President Obama. I don’t think the bill will see the light of day.”
The senator said he believes the health-care fight will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Maybe that will resolve the problem,” he said.
Another way to stop reform would be for the GOP to gain control of the U.S. House and refuse to fund the programs outlined in the congressionally passed law, he stated.
Forrester’s solutions were supported in part by Beaufort County Commissioner Al Klemm, a Republican who has tracked health-care issues closely in order to analyze local effects.
“I read through a lot of stuff,” Klemm said. “Basically, (the litigants) could possibly charge the constitutionality of it, but it would probably be something that would have to go through the Supreme Court.”
He added, “I don’t see how it could get past first base, but I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know.”
Pundits on both sides have wondered aloud whether the states’ lawsuit could be successful, since federal law generally takes precedence over state law, and insurance for motorists already is compulsory.
Comments from other senators — Democrats and Republicans — were difficult to obtain this week because the lawmakers in that chamber were grappling with their proposed adjustments to the state budget Tuesday and Wednesday.
Forrester also was involved in the budget dealing, but found time for a quick, after-hours interview Tuesday evening.