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State Republicans try to block health reform mandates

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Republicans in the state Legislature have joined counterparts in 25 other states in trying to block key aspects of the federal government’s health reform from taking effect in Indiana.

Joint resolutions in both the Indiana House and Senate were filed last week, calling for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow individuals, employers or health care providers to purchase or perform health care services without buying health insurance.

The amendment would attempt to block enforcement of provisions in the federal bills that would require individuals to buy insurance and require all but the smallest employers to provide health insurance benefits.

“A person, an employer, or a health care provider shall not be compelled, directly or indirectly, to participate in any health care system,” reads Senate Joint Resolution 14. Identical language was filed as House Joint Resolution 6.

The Senate resolution is sponsored by five Republicans—Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), Marlin Stutzman (R-Howe), Ed Charboneau (R-Valparaiso), and Greg Walker (R-Columbus).

The House version is authored by Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis).

Conservatives around the country have argued that the mandates in the federal health reform bills, particularly the requirement on individuals, violate the U.S. Constitution. They point out that the U.S. government has never required its citizens to purchase any product or service.

They also note that, since insurance companies are restricted to selling within state lines, that Congress cannot claim the bills are protected by the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.

However, the “mandate” is worded as a tax that would be levied on citizens who do not buy health insurance. Most legal scholars say the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to meddle with Congress’ authority to tax. Individuals who decide not to buy health insurance would pay $750 a year in a tax, under the Senate plan. Families would pay a higher levy.

If the federal health care legislation survives a challenge to its constitutionality, it would probably trump changes to state constitutions. Nevertheless, national Republican leaders are encouraging state efforts for their symbolic disapproval, if nothing else.

“With our focus squarely on defeating a government takeover of health care, this growing rebellion in the states is yet another indication of strong grass-roots opposition to Washington Democrats’ plans,” said the Republican leader in the U.S. House, Rep. John Boehner (D-Ohio), in a Jan. 14 statement.

The joint resolutions filed in the Indiana General Assembly would need to pass this year and pass again next year, then be approved by a majority of Indiana voters.

But it's not even clear if the resolutions could win over the Legislature, particularly the Democrat-controlled House. Last year, the Senate approved a similarly worded resolution by a vote of 31-16. That resolution, however, did not seek a constitutional amendment. The resolution, SR 111, authored by Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood), was never introduced in the House.

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