Some Pennsylvania lawmakers are mobilizing against the most controversial part of the new federal health law.
The bill was designed by Republican lawmakers who want to make sure that the commonwealth doesn’t penalize people who don’t have health coverage. Requiring nearly all Americans to have health insurance by 2014 is a key provision of the federal Affordable Care Act.
University of Pennsylvania law professor Ted Ruger said the requirement is a federal provision, and he said only the IRS has the power to exact a penalty.
“So the states have absolutely no role in enforcing it. To say that the state won’t participate in enforcing it is, legally, really a kind of sleight of hand. This is a way of using the state legislative process to make a strong political statement, I think more so, than any legally binding statute,” Ruger said.
Republican health committee chairman Rep. Matthew Baker guided the bill to a 14-to-9 victory.
The proposal will now go to the full Pennsylvania House for debate.
“At issue is whether the federal government is reaching beyond its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce by requiring citizens to purchase health insurance or face tax penalties. The federal government should not be in the business of forcing you to buy health insurance and punishing you if you don’t,” Baker said.
Opponents of the Baker legislation say the insurance mandate is a linchpin provision that keeps money flowing to the private health insurance industry. It’s also key, they said, to keeping insurance companies from rejecting sick and old people who are more expensive to insure.
Democratic lawmakers from the Philadelphia region are getting used to a “new normal” in Harrisburg. Legislators from the Philadelphia caucus spoke against the bill, but the Republican-backed Baker bill prevailed.
Democrat Rep. Ronald Waters — who serves parts of Delaware County and Philadelphia — asked his colleagues to postpone the vote and instead hold a series of community hearings. That suggestion was voted down.