House Democrats held a press conference Monday afternoon to challenge a bill filed late last week by House Republicans, including Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam and Rep. Tom Murry of Wake County, to block last year's federal health care reform law. The federal law, which is being challenged by 26 states and may end up before the Supreme Court, would require all Americans to have health insurance and prohibit insurance providers from refusing to cover many preexisting conditions.
The local bill, titled "Protect Health Care Freedom" (but more widely referred to as House Bill 2), would effectively exclude North Carolina from enforcing the federal health care reform act. It would prohibit the state from requiring anyone to obtain health insurance and levying a fine against them if they don't enroll. If passed, the bill could also require North Carolina's attorney general to join those 26 states in action against the federal legislation or defend the state and its residents against federal action.
Stam introduced the bill at a House Judiciary committee meeting last Thursday. The bill is scheduled to reach the House floor Wednesday for a full vote, according to a WRAL.com report. When Republicans around the state vied for their seats in last fall's elections, many promised they would challenge the health care act passed by Congress in March 2010. Taking a stand on the federal legislation was included among the new majority's other top tasks, including possibly increasing the number of charter schools allowed in North Carolina and undoing the landmark Racial Justice Act passed in 2009.
But the legislature needs to focus on local challenges, not on intervening in a federal matter when North Carolina is facing a nearly $4 billion budget deficit and thousands across the state are still unemployed, challengers of House Bill 2 said Monday.
"This bill doens't really accomplish anything except perhaps unnecessary costs and unintended consequences. It's a federal issue and it will be solved at the federal level in the federal courts," said Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange), who led the press conference. She said she hoped the event would spread the word to constituents, who would not have an opportunity to testify directly before the House after the judiciary committee denied a public hearing on the matter last week.
Speaking with Insko were a representative from the N.C. Justice Center and two patients, including Melanie Taylor, the sister of Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). Charles van der Horst, an internist and infectious disease specialist at the UNC medical school and hospitals, also spoke against House Bill 2.
"I really believe deeply in this issue. A third of the patients in the hospitals of North Carolina are there because they don't have insurance. If they had insurance and could get regular care, they wouldn't get sick and they wouldn't be in the hospital," he said.
The federal health care reforms passed in 2009 would end a cycle that is driving up health care costs nine percent each year, van der Horst said. The bill could actually improve the quality of services physicians are currently providing while reducing costs, he argued. Right now, anyone who shows up at a hospital must be treated regardless of insurance status. When those bills go unpaid, it's consumers and taxpayers who end up paying the bill, van der Horst said.
Just minutes after the press conference began, The New York Times reported that a federal judge in Florida ruled that President Barack Obama's health care law violates the U.S. Constitution and that in writing and passing the law, Congress had reached beyond its authority. This is the case 26 states have already made in their lawsuit against the health care act. According to the story, it was the fourth opinion on the reform. Two Democrat-appointed judges have upheld Obama's health care law while the Florida judge and a second Republican-appointed judge have ruled it unconstitutional.
House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) issued a statement just after the Democrats' response in light of the Florida ruling:
“In the House of Representatives, we have no higher priority than to balance our budget and work to foster an environment that encourages job development. The Federal Health Care bill is bad for business in North Carolina. For over a year, North Carolinians have clearly expressed their displeasure with the Federal legislation, and as recently as this afternoon, a Federal judge in Florida expressed his concern by ruling the entire law unconstitutional.
We will not stand idly and watch an unconstitutional usurpation of authority by the Federal government. North Carolinians expect us to act to protect their right to make their own health care decisions; we plan to do just that, and protect North Carolina’s economy in the process.”
In her statements earlier, Insko challenged talking points from Stam and other allies that the federal health care bill would cost North Carolina jobs. She argued it would do the opposite, insuring 1 million more North Carolinians and growing demand for workers in insurance, pharmaceuticals and medicine.
"I think they've been given a lot of misinformation, a lot of short 'snappies' that just dont hold up when you get into the details," Insko said. "This issue of being a job-killing bill is one of those. It's easy to say. That's a nice bumper sticker. But you can say that the moon changes shape because a little mouse nibbles on it. But saying it doesn't make it true."
Little research, other than this sparse fiscal note filed today, has been presented on the possible local costs if the House passes H2, and the state attorney general's office is forced to intervene in the national lawsuit.