By L.A Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — While Republican lawmakers were pushing the Protect Health Care Freedom Bill through the Legislature this week, Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper has apparently been working on his own push in the opposite direction and may have the Governor waffling on her promise not to veto the bill.
The measure, which seeks to block Obamacare from forcing all Americans to buy health insurance, passed the Senate February 16 and passed concurrence 69 to 49 in the House on Tuesday. According to WRAL, two days later Cooper sent a letter to Gov. Beverly Perdue and leading GOP lawmakers saying that House Bill 2 could prevent the state from collecting a Medicaid fee, which could lead the federal government to withhold some Medicaid funding. Cooper’s letter and accompanying eight-page legal analysis memo from Solicitor General Christopher Browning went further to claim that the law could interfere with sales tax on over-the-counter medications, auto insurance requirements and co-payments paid by families in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“House Bill 2 says, in part, that a law or rule shall not ‘impose a penalty, tax, fee, or fine on a person for providing for, or failing to provide for, health care services or medical treatment for that person or contracting with, or enrolling in, or failing to contract with or enroll in, a public or private health care system or health insurance plan,’” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “To insist that these words mean that people can’t be charged a tax on an over-the-counter drug is beyond a stretch.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger told the media that the attorney general should be “defending the constitutional rights of North Carolinians, not the political interests of Barack Obama and national Democrats.”
“We disagree with his opinion and don’t think states should bow down when the federal government passes unconstitutional laws,” Berger added.
Lawmakers based their two-page bill on model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council and used by some 38 states to challenge parts of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The bill was filed in January giving Cooper’s office weeks to raise concerns before its passage. And though the Attorney General told WRAL that lawmakers never sought his input, Senators on both sides of the aisle painted a different picture of the bill’s hearings as they thanked Sen. Austin Allran (R-Catawba) for his handling of the measure in committee, for allowing a public comment period and for making sure that “all” were given an opportunity to speak up though no one from the public did so.
Debated in the House for three hours earlier this month during which legislators entertained four amendments, the bill won approval in the Senate February 16, with two minor changes and came back to the House for concurrence, February 22. Though shorter the second go-around, the discussion was no less spirited Tuesday with Democrats arguing first that questioning the constitutionality of federal legislation violates the North Carolina Constitution and later that joining 26 other states in the suit challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was a waste of money and would deny healthcare to the needy.
Reminding fellow legislators that “secession is prohibited,” Rep. Phillip Haire (D-Haywood) said lawmakers who swore an oath to uphold the constitutions of the state and nation could not in good conscience vote for the bill.
Although Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) said he would stop short of suggesting that “Rep. Haire made the craziest argument I’ve ever heard …” he wasted no time in challenging it.
“Apparently, what he tells us is that as citizens of North Carolina we can’t do anything about what they do in Washington. We can’t even appeal to Caesar. …,” Stam said.
But he added “…This is the American way to challenge unconstitutional things in court. That’s what we’re asking to do. This is not about secession. This is not about nullification. This is not about our allegiance to the United States and the State of North Carolina. This is using the very methodologies and modalities of the law to fix it, to challenge it, just like, Rep. Haire, the Apostle Paul appealed to Caesar rather than just lying down on the ground and letting them kill him.”
Despite an impassioned plea, Haire’s motion to postpone the bill indefinitely was rejected after which Rep. Ray Rapp (D-Haywood) asked that lawmakers vote against the measure out of fear that it could cost the state some $344,000. Democrats Alma Adams (Guilford) and Marvin Lucas (Cumberland) said they opposed the bill on the grounds that it would deny healthcare insurance to the poor. And Minority Leader Joe Hackney (D-Orange) said the bill’s name was misleading and should have been “An Act to Protect the Freedom Not to Have to Pay for Your Healthcare.”
But Republicans forged ahead with the legislation that most North Carolinians have said they wanted. A recent Civitas polled showed 63 percent of those questioned agreed with joining the legal challenge against Obamacare while just 25 percent disagreed.
Sen. Austin Allran announced the poll results during the Senate debate. He said House Bill 2 would protect healthcare freedom with three provisions: 1) No law can force an individual to buy health insurance or enroll in a health insurance plan; 2) Individuals made subject to such a law have standing to sue; and 3) the Attorney General is required to bring an action to enforce the bill.
“Many of us believe that Congress did overstep its authority when they required every citizen in the country to purchase healthcare,” said Sen. Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland) in explaining her support for the bill on Feb. 16. “Should the people of North Carolina purchase healthcare insurance? Absolutely, they should. Should they be forced to purchase healthcare insurance? Absolutely not. There is where the line is drawn.”
She said the president’s Affordable Care Act is a job-killing bill and that under the federal mandate employers would be better off paying the fines than providing insurance.
Senators Eleanor Kinnaird (D-Orange) and Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) spoke against the Protect Health Care Freedom Act. And Sen. Eric Mansfield (D), a Cumberland County doctor, went so far as to compare the federal government mandate to buy health insurance to its mandate for desegregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
While Sen. Bill Purcell (D-Scotland), a retired pediatrician, admitted that the federal government’s healthcare plan isn’t perfect, he said it will address the growing number of uninsured and put a focus on preventive medicine.
“If this bill (H2) and similar bills succeed in undermining the Affordable Healthcare Act, what is your plan to deal with the rising cost of healthcare insurance and providing healthcare to the 1.7 million — nearly one out of five — and growing number of North Carolinians who have no health insurance, no Medicare and do not qualify for Medicaid?” Purcell demanded of Allran, who responded that he’d be glad to work on such a plan, but that it should be done on the state level and not in Washington. He also reminded Purcell that he’s had equal opportunity to introduce a bill to address the problem, but hasn’t.
Sen. David Rouzer (R-Johnston) told lawmakers that government “is the problem, not the solution.” He said the Affordable Healthcare Act defies economics and will be anything but affordable and urged support for House Bill 2.
Echoing some of the same sentiments, Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Montgomery) said the nation is already $15 trillion in debt and “at the edge of Armageddon economically if we’re not already over it.” He challenged those defending Obamacare to “tell me something that they’ve (the federal government) solved — I want to hear it — something they’ve succeeded, and then we’ll talk about it.”