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Hoffman: Idaho should consider health care constitutional amendment

Hoffman: Idaho should consider health care constitutional amendment

Wayne Hoffman
September 27, 2009
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September 27, 2009

I'd bet when Superman hangs out in the Hall of Justice with Aquaman, Wonder Woman and the Wonder Twins, the Man of Steel wonders whether he should be in a league of his own.

"Aquaman talks to fish. How useful is that? I'm faster than a locomotive!" Superman pontificates.

Members of Congress are like that, belittling or ignoring the power of the people and the states.

Congress' Kryptonite is the U.S. Constitution. It's a document that restricts the powers of the federal government. And just as Superman has a finite list of abilities — super strength, super speed and X-ray vision — Congress can only do what's allowed under Article I, Section 8.

There are only 18 expressly stated powers. Health care is not one of them.

The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." It is potent medicine for national government that's out of control and tries to exert powers it really doesn't have.

Recognizing this, several states are mobilizing to amend their own constitutions so that their residents' rights won't be curtailed by federal fiat. Leading the charge is Arizona, where this summer, that state's legislature voted to place a health care constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot.

"Protecting the rights of individuals to be in control of their health and health care must be a fundamental component of health care reform," said Arizonans for Health Care Freedom Chairman Dr. Eric Novack.

The Arizona legislation says Arizonians have the right to spend their own money their own way on health care and have the right to choose whether they participate in any type of health care system. Arizona's constitutional amendment is similar to legislation that voters narrowly defeated in 2008.

Joining Arizona are Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. While the legislation varies from state to state, the measures are intended to nullify any law that restricts a person's health care choices, bans private payment for health care or requires residents to carry health insurance.

In Idaho, I'm not aware of a lawmaker taking this on, but it seems ripe for someone to do so.

Last legislative session, Idaho lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution reaffirming the state's sovereignty. But the state's attempt to go stag was discombobulated. While looking askance, wagging its collective finger at the federal government and passing the sovereignty resolution, the Legislature voted to accept millions of dollars in federal stimulus aid and begged the federal government to cut a check so Idaho can offer a doctor of medicine degree.

Actions drowned out the words. Amending the state Constitution would be a noble attempt to protect the rights of Idahoans, who should be allowed to manage their own health care without government intervention.

Such an amendment would require an affirmative two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature and a vote of the people in the 2010 general election — a vote that many Idahoans would relish casting.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, a Lewiston doctor and one of the Legislature's leading experts on insurance and health care, is dismissive of the idea of a constitutional amendment.

"I would point out that when the (U.S.) Constitution was written, health care (involved) bleeding people," said Rusche. He said lawmakers — federal and state — need to focus more attention on fixing health care delivery systems than on insurance.

"I do know the cost that Americans bear (for health care) is a real drag on productivity and international competitiveness. Unless we find some way to level the playing field with the rest of the world, it's going to be real hard to compete," Rusche said.

House Health and Welfare Chairwoman Sharon Block of Twin Falls said she's aware of efforts in other states to amend their constitutions, but she's worried about unintended consequences, including retribution by the federal government, which might decide to eliminate or cut funding for Medicaid — the state-federal partnership for the poor and disabled. "There are people out there who are very vulnerable and who need our help," Block said.

Michigan Rep. Brian Calley has the right idea of state and federal roles, and is behind the legislation that would protect Michiganders from having to participate in a national health care program.

"The role of the federal government is not to force anyone to participate in any health care plan, let alone a nationalized system run by the government," Calley said in a press release earlier this month. "The federal government has no business dictating how and when people can receive health care services."

No matter how hard he tries, Superman can't talk to the fish. An attempt to do so might boil the ocean with his heat ray. That would be bad, unless he's hankering for seafood. In the case of marine-life communications, Aquaman is mightier than Superman.

No matter how hard it tries, Congress can't fix health care. It wasn't designed to do it. The states – and more importantly, the people – are mightier than federal government. It might take an amendment of the state's constitution to remind the folks in Congress of this fact.

Wayne Hoffman is the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit, non-partisan think tank. E-mail him at [email protected].

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