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NC House OKs challenge to health reform law

Posted February 2, 2011 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2011 1:35 p.m. EST

— The state House voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would exempt North Carolina residents from a key requirement of the year-old national health care reform law.

House Bill 2 is the first legislation to get a full vote in the 2011 legislative session. It passed two readings by identical 66-50 votes.

The bill, which now heads to the Senate, aims to block a provision requiring people to buy insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty. It also aims to force Attorney General Roy Cooper to join a lawsuit filed by 26 other states to challenge the law.

Democrats say the measure could prevent hundreds of thousands of people from obtaining health insurance. The also argued that North Carolina doesn't need to participate in the lawsuit since it would have to abide by whatever ruling the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately hands down about its legality.

"I think it's clear to everyone that this is in some means a symbolic gesture," said Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash.

Republicans maintained that the so-called "individual mandate" in the reform law is intrusive and that the bill sends a message to Washington, D.C., that North Carolina won't let the federal government walk over its citizens.

"If he or she is alive, he or she has to buy health insurance (under the reform law). That's offensive to me and many people in North Carolina," said Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston.

"It further punishes our citizens if they don't purchase the health insurance our federal government says is OK," said Rep. Jeff Barnhart, R-Cabarrus.

As they did last week when a House committee passed the bill within a day of the legislative session's start, Democrats said the measure was being rushed through and needed more analysis.

"We're doing committee work on the House floor. We're coming up with one exception after another, and in this sausage factory, I have this feeling that, even if you like the bill, there are exclusions that should be in it, that we're leaving out," said Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake.

Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who was elected in November on a pledge to repeal the health reform law, said Wednesday that she supports the General Assembly's effort.

"We have state's rights in this issue," Ellmers said. "They're speaking out, saying it should not have to be a mandate to purchase health care insurance."

Gov. Beverly Perdue asked Wednesday why the House was taking up the health reform issue before addressing job growth and improving the state economy. She echoed Democratic lawmakers in saying the issue should be handled at the federal level, but she didn't indicate whether she would veto the bill if it passes the Senate.