Health-care bill draws opinions

Published 10:34 pm Thursday, February 3, 2011

Staff Writer

As state House Republicans pushed for a vote on a bill that would strike down a federal mandate that Americans buy health insurance, at least in North Carolina, Beaufort County’s representative offered his perspective on the issue.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, said in reference to the proposed House Bill 2, also called the Protect Health Care Freedom bill.
“I think the Obamacare is unconstitutional, and I think we need to do something about it,” Cook said. “The requirement to make people buy insurance is so unprecedented. It’s illegal. It’s not a good thing.”
The bill would exempt state residents from the individual-mandate portion of the federal health-care-reform law, which requires people to buy health insurance starting in 2014.
President Barack Obama’s administration has argued the mandate is a necessary part of a larger effort to corral skyrocketing health-care costs, national media reports have shown.
In an interview from his Raleigh office, Cook said he would vote for the state bill. Cook also said he would favor congressional repeal of the federal reform law.
“I’d like to strike the whole thing and replace it with tort reform, replace it with opening up insurance such that it can be sold all across the country,” said Cook. “As it is now only certain insurance companies can practice in each state. That limits competition.”
Increased competition would drive down health-care costs, he contended.
“It’s done that way in every other industry; we need to do it here,” Cook commented.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has declined to join a multi-state lawsuit led by people claiming the reform law is unconstitutional.
Cook said he hoped legislative action on the bill would prod Cooper to join the lawsuit.
“If it’s unconstitutional, we need to determine that, and that’s one of the things this law is designed to try to foster,” Cook remarked.
Jeff Shaw is spokesman for the North Carolina Justice Center, a left-leaning advocacy organization.
Asked whether the state Legislature could affect any provision of federal law, Shaw said, “I don’t think so. Health care is clearly a federal issue, and we don’t think this (bill) is going to go any place in the long run.”
Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the future of the reform law, he related, nodding to a federal judge’s recent ruling that the law is unconstitutional.
“It is largely symbolic,” Shaw said of the state House bill.
“I think that a lot of these folks rode in on a wave of anti-government sentiment and they want to demonstrate symbolically to the voters that they believed their rhetoric,” he added.
The Justice Center argues repealing the health-care law would hurt millions of North Carolinians.
The Justice Center asserts that, if the state House bill gained the force of law, this large group would be left without insurance.
“Using insurance industry definitions used to charge higher premiums or reject applications approximately 4 million North Carolinians suffer from a pre-existing condition,” reads a news release from the center.
Ensuring people with pre-existing conditions have health coverage amounts to a provision for something other than actual health insurance, Cook said.
“It’s more like a government handout,” he said. “And we need to fix that, but we need to fix pre-existing conditions in such a way that maybe we can structure it with sort of a menu of insurance coverages.”
While Cook and the Justice Center are on clear, opposite sides of the health-care debate, the American people as a whole are less certain, a recent poll indicated.
Last month, an Associated Press-GfK poll found that 40 percent of the people responding to the survey favored the law while 41 percent did not favor it.
The poll reached out to 1,001 people across the nation from Jan. 5 through Jan. 10, according to AP. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent, AP reported.
A call seeking comment from a spokesman for state House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.