Utah may push back if feds mandate health care

2009-08-02T00:15:00Z Utah may push back if feds mandate health careJoe Pyrah - Daily Herald Daily Herald
August 02, 2009 12:15 am  • 

Conservative opposition to federal health care reform could lead to a 2010 Utah constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers may propose an amendment that would allow Utah residents to opt out of federal mandates being considered by Congress and backed by the Obama administration.

"It says basically this: People of this state will not be forced to purchase health care insurance and businesses will not be forced to provide health care insurance for their employees," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. A public option for insurance also has been at the center of the debate.

Speaker of the House David Clark, R-Santa Clara, has been a key player in state reform and has spoken with Wimmer about the amendment proposal.

Clark said he's wary of using a tool as powerful as a constitutional amendment in this instance but leaves the door open.

"I think all of this is driven out of a real sense of frustration with the federal government," Clark said. "I think it's wise on our behalf to figure what our options are."

Utah lawmakers and Gov. Jon Huntsman have spent several years attempting to reform health care on a state level, passing laws this year intended to lower costs and improve accessibility.

"The people of Utah are able to make those decisions on their own," said Wimmer, a founding member of the Legislature's Patrick Henry Caucus that pushes for states' rights.

The caucus could provide a powerful base in January when the bill comes up for debate. At least 30 of the House's 75 lawmakers are members, as are 10 of the 29 senators. It takes a two-thirds vote in both houses to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, where voters ultimately decide its fate.

But Utahns backing out of federal law would likely come at the cost of federal funds, a major lawsuit or both.

Consider President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform. The mandated changes came with no additional funds, and failing to meet the changes meant states could lose existing federal funds for education. Led by Utah, multiple states rebelled by filing lawsuits against myriad aspects of the law, to varying degrees of success.

So what if Medicare and Medicaid funding - hypothetically speaking - are tied to the new federal health care reform?

If the federal government does tie in other health care programs that the state uses as part of overall reform, Clark doesn't see many options.

"I don't know that we could ever walk away from that." Wimmer says he would push the amendment forward "regardless of the financial threats that are received from Washington." States, he said, need to wean themselves from federal dollars and reassert 10th Amendment rights.

A handful of states have already considered similar proposals, including Arizona, which succeeded in getting its proposal on the 2010 ballot as a constitutional amendment. Conservative Florida lawmakers also recently filed a bill that would place an amendment on the ballot in that state if passed.

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