Graham pushes for state opt-out from health care law

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 31, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Two Senate Republicans Tuesday aim to introduce a measure that would allow states to opt out of the federal health care law, a day after a federal judge declared President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement unconstitutional.

The bill, crafted by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming, would enable states to shield their residents from having to buy health insurance as required by the landmark legislation Obama signed into law last March.

The Graham measure would also let states pass legislation freeing their businesses from the mandate to provide employees medical coverage and rejecting expansion of Medicaid benefits.

"Opting out would take the health-care debate from Washington to the states and give people more say," Graham said. "At the end of the day, this is a waiver for states if they choose to take it."

In Florida Monday, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that Congress, in passing the health measure last year, exceeded its power under the Constitution's Commerce Clause by requiring almost all Americans to buy health insurance.

Vinson sided in his ruling with Florida and 25 other states, including South Carolina, which had challenged the provision in court. Vinson's ruling, however, went further, saying the insurance mandate makes the entire legislation void.

Graham said his bill would codify an idea that South Carolina's new Republican Gov. Nikki Haley raised with Obama at a White House meeting in December.

Obama, in a gathering with the nation's governors, told Haley he'd consider letting states opt out of the health-insurance law's mandates if certain conditions were met.

Obama said he might consider compromises if the states ran exchange programs, banned insurance firms from denying coverage of pre-existing conditions and enabled people to pool together for better rates. Graham's bill, however, doesn't address these conditions.

Still, Graham's approach is less extreme than legislation introduced last week by Sen. Jim DeMint, his South Carolina colleague and conservative kingmaker.

The DeMint measure would simply repeal the health-insurance law. It has 39 cosponsors, among them Graham and all but three of the other 41 Republican senators.

DeMint's bill is virtually identically to legislation passed on Jan. 19 by the House of Representatives.

DeMint praised Vinson's ruling.

"ObamaCare is clearly unconstitutional, courts continue to rule against it, and Americans sent a clear message in November to repeal it," DeMint said. "Today, all Republican senators have united to repeal this government takeover of health care."

However, with Democrats still in control of the Senate, and Obama's veto power, DeMint's effort isn't likely to succeed.

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