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February 03, 2011 8:43 am

House, Senate pass bills to block federal health care law

Written by Ilene Olson

On Tuesday, the Wyoming House and Wyoming Senate both passed bills intended to block implementation of the federal health care reform law in Wyoming.

The lawmakers’ actions came one day after a Florida judge struck down the law, saying Congress exceeded its authority by requiring nearly all Americans to carry health insurance.

Judge Roger Vinson was the second federal judge to rule against the federal Affordable Care Act, while two other federal judges have upheld its constitutionality.

U.S. Justice Department officials have said they will appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, the bills passed Tuesday by Wyoming legislators aim to exempt Wyoming residents from the law.

The House approved House Bill 35, declaring that the federal Affordable Care Act violates the U.S. Constitution and is invalid. The bill now heads to the Wyoming Senate.

The Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 2, a proposed amendment to the Wyoming Constitution that would specify that citizens reserve the right to make their own health care decisions. If approved by the House, the proposed amendment would go before Wyoming voters.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the court’s decision and the Senate’s action both were “good news from my perspective.”

“It was indeed a pleasure to see the court overturn this unconstitutional mandate handed down to us by Congress. The constitutional amendment that I supported today, SJ 2, sends a message that the Wyoming Legislature and the citizens of Wyoming also support the court decision.”

The joint resolution, Coe said, “exemplifies the citizens of this country and Wyoming’s opposition to this mandated purchasing of health insurance.”

Before passing HB 35, representatives removed language that would have made it a crime to implement or enforce any part of the bill.

In an e-mail, Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, said he agreed with that change.

“I had some real question about the authority of the state Legislature to make it a criminal act for federal employees to enforce the law as passed by Congress,” he said.

“Apparently, the sponsors had second thought about that, too, because they pulled it from the bill on amendment. But they left in the provision that state employees could be found guilty of a crime to enforce rules and regulations of the federal law.

“I spoke against this because it could have, in effect, ended the Medicaid program or put state employees at risk of breaking the law.”

Bonner said some of the Medicaid rules governing payment of coverage of children went into effect Oct. 1.

“If Wyoming doesn’t follow the rules, they put at risk the entire $1.5 billion biennial program, and that includes 60 percent of the seniors in nursing homes in the state today. So I was glad to see the criminality of state employees stripped from the bill, too.”

Bonner, who is publisher of the Powell Tribune and a member of the board for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, said he has some problems with the entire federal health care law, mostly on the basis of costs. That includes the expansion of Medicaid, which he said neither the federal nor state government can afford.

However, “There are some elements I support, like elimination of pre-exisitng conditions limitation on ... health insurance policies.

“I would hope we could get to the place where there was never a policy denied because of pre-existing conditions,” he said.

“The House passage of HB 35 says we believe the law is unconstitutional,” he said. “It doesn’t say we don’t believe in the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.

“The Supremacy Clause says federal law trumps state law except when the U.S. Congress is not operating within the U.S. Constitution.

“That’s where we are, and we probably won’t know who’s right until the U.S. Supreme Court adjudicates.

“I think everyone hopes there will be an ultimate answer before 2014 when the individual mandate and other key provisions take effect.

“In the meantime, the federal law stands unless it is repealed.”

Until then, “This bill (HB 35) is about the Legislature saying to citizens of Wyoming that the state wants to be involved in doing health care the way Wyoming wants reform.”

Other Park and Big Horn County legislators contacted for comments did not respond by press time Wednesday.

Dave Blevins, a State Farm agent in Powell, said he receives updates almost daily as the agency moves through the process of implementing the federal health care reform law.

“From what we have seen, how this initially is affecting everyone is that the (health insurance) prices appear to be higher. If you think it through, that’s the only logical conclusion ... because insurance companies, as the law is implemented, have less and less choice in who they insure. The consequence to that is higher rates.”

Blevins said he is concerned about those cost increases.

“People still need to pay other bills,” he said.

He said the government needs to figure out real solutions to health care problems before trying to address them.

“I think there can be significant changes made to the current legislation ... We’re so enveloped in this process that we’ve got to have some way to slow it down so that we can certainly make the corrections that we think need to be made.

“I know from personal experience that they have done nothing on the provider end of this equation. That’s going to be almost an impossible task when they dump 30 million people onto that system.”

The first area of focus, Blevins said, before anything else is done, should be on gathering data on costs and services through reliable electronic patient records systems. While that’s a stated goal for federal officials, it hasn’t happened yet.

“I don’t have any great hope that more complicated issues can be tackled when we have an obvious answer like that ... but we can’t even get that done. How are we going to tackle the more difficult things?”

Blevins said he doesn’t have all the answers, and he doesn’t know what the outcome will be.

“I’ll have to let the readers decide,” he said. “I think we’re very lucky to live in Wyoming, where, with almost any difficult issue, we have the foresight to talk about it, and we have the determination to do something about it.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi said Vinson’s decision that the federal law is unconstitutional “moves us one step closer to allowing Americans to keep the plans they have and preventing the higher insurance premiums that will result from this deeply flawed law.

“Today, 26 states took the nation one step closer to reclaiming the freedoms afforded by the Constitution,” he said.

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