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Politics

Florida Health Care Amendment Gives Voters Chance to Speak Out on Insurance Mandates

September 15, 2012 - 6:00pm

Sunshine State voters will have the chance to weigh in on 11 proposed constitutional amendments when they head to the polls in November. The first of these ballot measures might well be the most controversial, as it asks: Should Floridians be forced to purchase health insurance?

The Florida Health Care Amendment (Amendment 1) has two purposes: to allow the states voters to register their symbolic opposition to the health insurance mandate of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA; known as Obamacare to critics), and to make it difficult for the Florida Legislature to implement its own statewide version of such a mandate in the event the U.S. Congress overturns the controversial federal law.

What voters will have a say on is affirmatively stating where they stand on a basic individual right. If nothing else, our job as a Legislature is to uphold individual rights, says state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, in an interview with Sunshine State News. Were born free I believe that firmly and this is just one very important element of our lives, that of our own personal health care, which we want voters to have a little more say on. I think we show the ultimate respect for voters by giving them the final say on a measure like this.

The Affordable Care Act imposes several mandates on individuals and employers. It compels most businesses to offer government-approved health insurance to their employees, and requires those who are not insured by their employer to purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

Several states challenged the constitutionality of the mandates in federal court, but their concerns were dismissed by the Supreme Court in June. The court, in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, upheld the mandate on the grounds that what the law itself explicitly referred to as a fine was merely a special tax on the uninsured, and that Congress has authority to impose such taxes under the Taxing and Spending Clause of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

If approved, Amendment 1 would represent a vote of no-confidence in PPACA by Floridas voters, as well as amend the state Constitution to require the consent of two-thirds of both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate before the Legislature could ever impose its own statewide version of such mandates.

A similar measure, the Florida Health Care Freedom Amendment, would have appeared on the ballot in 2010 had the Florida Supreme Court not removed it after finding that the ballot summary contained misleading language.

If nothing else, this amendment will give guidance to future legislatures as to how they deal with the new health care law. The law doesnt take full effect until 2014, but it could still be repealed, says Haridopolos. And if Mitt Romney is elected president, he could tell his [secretary of health and human services] to not go with the heavy-handed approach of the current administration, but to instead give each state a waiver. So, this gives a clear indication of where Florida voters are on the biggest policy issue to come before us in a generation.

But not everyone shares the Republican Legislatures enthusiasm for the measure.

I am opposed to Amendment 1 because its really just one more attempt by the Legislature to circumvent, or to fail to implement, the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, the Democratic ranking member of the state Houses Health and Human Services Committee, tells Sunshine State News. This is just one more attack on a law which we know has already had a positive impact on thousands of Floridians throughout our state who have had the opportunity to receive medical care at cheaper costs. This would create for them a situation where they would not have those services provided for them, and we [i.e., the Florida Democratic Party] would encourage them to vote against Amendment 1.

Asked whether she believes Floridians should be required to purchase health insurance, Jones says, I think that [the mandates] puts the country in a much better position. They create an opportunity for us not to have as many uninsured patients in our emergency rooms, having to get a higher cost of care than they would if they had a primary care provider who could make sure they were getting the approved medical care along the way, as opposed to having to go to the emergency room.

Haridopolos is hopeful that voters will support Amendment 1 by the 60 percent supermajority the measure needs to pass.

Its not we in the Legislature forcing our will on the people; this is the people standing up and saying this is what we believe in, he insists. Thats what I love about our constitutional process. It allows the people, regardless of what the Legislature may or may not do, to have the final say on such a paramount issue.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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