Original bill weakened by amendment, but state is first with Democrat-controlled legislature to pass Health Care Freedom Act
By Fergus Hodgson
Pelican Institute for Public Policy
On Sunday the Louisiana House concurred with the Senate to pass HB 1474, which provides that no resident of Louisiana “shall be required to obtain or maintain a policy of individual health insurance coverage.” The measure was weakened by a controversial amendment, but Louisiana is the first state with Democratic majorities to pass legislation that opposes federal insurance mandates.
Representative Kirk Talbot sponsored the bill to set up a legal challenge to federally mandated medical insurance. However, after the House passed the bill comfortably, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee amended it so that it could not supersede any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
While the legal value of the bill may be diminished, Michael Cannon, Director of Health Policy Studies for the Cato Institute, asserts that “these state laws are valuable politically as well as legally, because they signal widespread, bipartisan opposition to ObamaCare.” Christie Herrera, Health Task Force Director for the American Legislative Exchange Council echoed Cannon’s perspective. “Today, Louisiana sends a clear message to the President and Congress that there is broad, bipartisan opposition to the centerpiece of their health reform agenda.”
Louisiana legislators modeled the bill after ALEC’s Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, which has already passed in Georgia, Idaho, Virginia, and Arizona. 42 states have filed or announced legislation similar to HB 1474, and the intent of such legislation has been to protect state residents from a federal requirement to purchase health insurance and empower the attorney general to sue on behalf of individuals. Separately, Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell has already joined a multi-state lawsuit challenging the federal health care law.
However, after legislators altered and fused different versions early in the process, the Senate committee amended the bill at the final hurdle. The Senate’s most vigorous opponents to federal health care mandates did not restore the original bill, and support for the latest version became a null issue.
Since the legislative session finishes today, limited time remained for further debate or amendments. House proponents of the original bill had little choice but to accept the latest version, rather than send it back to Senate. Representative Talbot points out that the bill still “sets a conflict with the Federal Health care plan that will bolster our lawsuit against the federal government,” but just as importantly “it lets our position be known that Louisiana does not want the federal government health care plan.”
Senator Heitmeier, as author of the amendment and member of the Health and Welfare Committee, played a key role in the final process. Why he amended the bill so severely, rather than oppose it outright, is unclear. On Thursday Heitmeier’s office did accept questions from the Pelican Institute and promised a response, but they are yet to follow through.