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NC Senate passes challenge to federal health care law

Posted February 17, 2011 6:12 a.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2011 2:15 p.m. EST

— North Carolina lawmakers have approved a state challenge to the federal health care overhaul.

It’s the second major piece of legislation the new GOP majority will send to the desk of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.

The proposal would outlaw a key provision in last year's federal health care reform by making it illegal to force people to buy health insurance or to punish them for refusing to do so. The state attorney general would be required to fight any federal challenge to the bill.

Introducing the measure, Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, cited two pending federal lawsuits against health care reform. “The basis of this bill is that the federal law is unconstitutional,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Clary, R-Gaston, said she believes Congress overstepped its authority by requiring everyone in the country to purchase health insurance.

“Should the people of North Carolina purchase health care insurance? Absolutely, they should,” Clary said. “Should they be forced to purchase health care insurance? Absolutely not. There’s where the line is drawn.”

Clary warned federal health care reform would exact a high price from the government and taxpayers, and it would take a toll on private employers, too.

“If the federal mandate is enacted, we believe that job creation will be negatively impacted,” she said, adding that many employers would likely choose to break the law, since the fine for disobeying the mandate is cheaper than the cost of compliance. ”You’re criminalizing your industry across this state.”

But Scotland Democrat and retired doctor Bill Purcell argued that, unless the costs of health care are spread over the entire population, both healthy and ill, the price of insurance will only continue to rise. “Who does this bill help? It helps people who want to take a free ride on the back of the people who have taken the responsibility of buying health insurance," he said.

Purcell asked Allran what his plan would be for controlling health care costs if the anti-mandate bill succeeds.

Allran answered that the state could take its own steps to impose a mandate as Massachusetts did. “The only thing this bill does is say the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and it is," he said.

Purcell countered, “So, sir, what you’re saying is that you don’t have a plan. Is that what I heard?"

Johnston Republican David Rouzer said the GOP’s plan is to cut government regulation of health care, which he says is to blame for the lack of competition in the insurance industry. He said medical malpractice reform would lower costs “significantly.”

Cumberland Democrat Eric Mansfield, a doctor himself, said there are things about the federal bill he doesn’t like, but it gets one thing right.

“For the first time in the history of America, we gave the people who get up and strap their boots on, work in jobs most of us would never want to work in, drive trucks do things in construction, they got health care for the first time," he said.

Mansfield talked about the difficulty of seeing working patients who can’t afford needed surgeries, while his other patients who “don’t want to work” get cheap co-pays and diagnostics. “It’s an inequity in our system.”

But he also pointed out that 1.7 million uninsured North Carolinians run up an annual $1.8 billion bill for unpaid health care, a cost that’s passed on to everyone who pays for insurance. “You say this bill is gonna cost us money. Not having this bill is already costing us money,” he said.

The measure made it through the Senate Wednesday on a party-line vote, 30-18. It goes back to the House for one final vote to approve some minor changes the Senate made. After that, it goes to Perdue, who hasn’t yet said whether she’ll veto it.