Obamacare Opt-Out Amendment: First Step Taken
Around the State
Floridians could get the chance to opt out of the federal health-care law if state legislators get their way.
A joint resolution to place a constitutional amendment before the voters to reject the individual mandate required by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that fines or penalizes those who don’t purchase or obtain health insurance, started its journey to the 2012 ballot Wednesday when it gained the vast support of a Senate committee.
The bill, known as SJR 2, or the Health Care Freedom Act, is sponsored by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island -- an unusual step for a sitting president. He said his passion over the principle of individual rights and states rights led him to file the bill.
“It’s the idea that the individual will decide what their plan is going to look like,” Haridopolos told the Health Regulation Committee members.
A similar amendment passed both chambers of the Legislature this year but was struck down by the courts before the election because its language was deemed too confusing for the voters. Haridopolos said the offending language has been taken out of the new bill and he is hopeful it will pass judicial review this time around.
“I learned a lot from last year. We toned it down,” Haridopolos said.
The resolution received only two dissenting votes -- from Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood and Jeremy Ring, D-Margate.
“There’s a lot of this law that my constituents like,” Sobel told Haridopolos, citing the Affordable Care Act's prohibition of pre-existing condition bans on children as an example.
For Haridopolos, the constitutional amendment is about the principle of individual freedom, but also about reining-in a state budget facing the possibility of a $3.5 billion deficit. Reforming Medicaid is one of his top priorities to that end, but trying to cut costs while still maintaining standard levels of care will be a difficult balancing act.
Some opponents of the measure maintain that changing Florida’s Constitution to evade the less-popular aspects of Obamacare will constrict the Legislature’s attempts to expand coverage and control health care costs in the future.
“The problem with this amendment is that if the Legislature were to seek a way to increase the pool ... it’s going to be much more difficult for the Legislature to tackle that problem because it’s in the Constitution,” said Rich Templin, communications director for the AFL-CIO.
But senators supportive of the measure said they would rather offer carrots instead of sticks to individuals in order to increase health insurance participation, and seek only to allow the freedom to opt out of the law rather than nullification of the law.
“We would rather incent (sic) than to compel citizens. I’d rather give them choices, alternatives and options to purchase the health care they want,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
The bill must now pass through two other committees before coming to the full Senate for a vote. Moving through the committee process, however, shouldn’t be too difficult, because the measure has 26 co-sponsors in the Senate.
If the measure and its corresponding resolution pass the House, and the bill is signed by Gov.-elect Rick Scott, the constitutional amendment could appear before voters as early as the 2012 presidential preference primary, but Haridopolos said it will likely be placed on the general election ballot in 2012.
Reach Gray Rohrer at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.