The Idaho Senate voted 24-10 in favor of the Idaho Health Freedom Act Tuesday. The legislation, which would shield Idahoans from possible federal health care mandates, now heads to the governor's desk. The Idaho Health Freedom Act could also help the state in a potential lawsuit against the federal government over health care, according to its sponsor, Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden. The House approved the measure on a party line vote Feb. 9.
“This is a sad day that we as a state need to bring forward this legislation to protect ourselves from an overreaching government,” said Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who guided the legislation through the Senate. He said the push for federal health care reform reflects badly on the U.S. “We have really changed as a nation in 220 years. People used to come into Ellis Island dirt poor, nothing but the clothes on their back. And their attitude was ‘give me freedom, that’s all that I ask.’ And they were happy for it. Today, we want the government to feed us, we want them to guarantee us medical care. I’m proud of the state of Idaho that we would consider legislation like this. We’re saying we’ll be independent. We don’t need you. We’ll take care of ourselves. And we can do a better job of doing it."
Three Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the plan. “In my opinion, this bill ignores the history and the reality of the Supremacy Clause and the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, also voted against the legislation.
The third Republican who opposed the legislation was Sen. Charles Coiner of Twin Falls. He said he fears that enacting the Health Freedom Act could lead to costly lawsuits. The text of the proposal said it could lead to $100,000 in legal fees, but Coiner said it could be more. “It’s not going to cost us $100,000, because [state lawyers] are going to be forced to defend the state of Idaho to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said on the floor that those legal costs could hire at least three public school teachers.
Pearce responded that the Idaho has already received an offer of free legal counsel from the free enterprise Goldwater Institute “I guess I would ask you as Americans, what is our freedom worth?" Pearce asked. "At $100,000, I guess it’s a pretty cheap buy.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the proposal would send a strong message. “For me, this legislation is an opportunity to tell the federal government to back off," he said. "The federal government has overreached for a long time." Hammond blamed both parties for extending the federal government's reach, and said the Legislature's non-binding memorials and resolutions would have less impact than the Health Freedom Act, which would alter state law. “We as citizens of this state need to assert our sovereignty (and) need to assert our individual freedom.”
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said the fact that it would alter state law could lead to problems down the road. "Twice we have found unintended consequences,” she said. The proposal was amended in the House to allow public universities to require health insurances for college students. Kelly said the legislation would also affect legal immigrants in Idaho on J-1 visas. That federal visa also mandates buying health insurance. “There may very well be other unintended consequences of this bill that we don’t know right now,” Kelly said.
Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said he favored the proposal because it would encourage Idahoans to make their own decisions about their health and life. “Do you think this government can make decisions for you with respect to your health insurance?" he asked. "Well I don’t. I want to make those decisions for myself.” He also said the federal government has mismanaged the national deficit, public education, forests, and immigration, so it shouldn't be given control over health care. “This is a time to stop the intrusion of the federal government into every aspect of our life,” he said.
The Health Freedom Act now heads to Gov. Otter, who has said he opposes federal health care reform. Read IdahoReporter.com's coverage of the Idaho Health Freedom Act here. The text of the act is available here.