Oklahoma legal firestorm in response to federal health care law
By Patrick B. McGuigan
A total of five pieces of legislation are working through the Oklahoma Legislature designed to protect the state government’s options in light of the passage of sweeping new federal health care legislation.
Three Senate Joint Resolutions are pending. SJR 58 would call on the state to “opt-out” of what is widely termed “Obamacare.” SJR 64 directs the attorney general of the state to sue and seek invalidation of the federal measure. SJR 59 would trigger a vote of the citizenry on the “opt-out” provision.
Two House measures carry similar emphasis. House Concurrent Resolution 1050 would “block grant” health care dollars to allow Oklahoma to sustain and enhance its own system. House Joint Resolution 1054 is similar to legislation filed this year in at least 36 states. If passed by both houses of the Legislature, the constitutional amendment will be submitted to a statewide popular vote.
The measure is designed to preserve “current access to health care,” Sate Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow said. It is based on model legislation advocated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Speaker of the House Chris Benge, a Tulsa Republican, told CapitolBeatOK today, “My position against heavy-handed, federal health care is well-known and has not changed. It is unfortunate we are being forced to take such drastic action, but it is clear that Washington is giving us no other choice.”
Benge pointed to HCR 1050, a measure he is sponsoring, and said, “I have a bill urging Congress to block grant federal health care funds to the states so we can build on the successes we have seen with our Insure Oklahoma program and other efforts to reduce the uninsured. The Democratic-controlled Congress and the Democratic president obviously plan to ignore state concerns, so we have no choice but to take action.”
Rep. Ritze told CapitolBeatOK the Legislature would move aggressively to avoid having “socialized European-and-Canadian-style Obamacare” imposed on Oklahoma. Ritze, a medical doctor, asserted that in 2009 roughly one-quarter of physicians 55 and older were already inclined to leave the profession due to government mandates.
“We [doctors] already have to wade through 100,000 page of federal mandates and regulations, and now we are headed toward health care rationing,” Ritze said. He insisted tort reform, accessibility of health insurance options across state lines and other reforms made more sense than what has emerged from Washington.
Dr. Ritze described a recent conversation with a 49-year-old neurosurgeon who told him recently he would quit if President Obama’s health care proposals passed. Dr. Ritze pointed to a rising shortage of pediatric surgeons in support of his contention that “things are bad, and they’re about to get worse.”
Ritze said the new federal bill has electrified the 10,000 members of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The group, based in Arizona, supports market-oriented solutions to health care issues. Dr. Ritze was keynote speaker at the organization’s meeting last November.
U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican candidate for governor of Oklahoma, has challenged Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson to join attorneys general from other states to file legal action against what she called “unconstitutional provisions” in President Obama’s health care bill.
Edmondson this winter was the first Democrat attorney general to join in legal criticisms of parts of the federal legislation when it was still in the drafting stage.
Idaho, Virginia, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Washington, North Dakota and South Dakota are among the states that have announced or are consideration challenges to the new law.
Republican candidates seeking to replace Edmondson, meanwhile, are also calling on him to jump into the legal fray against the federal law.
One is Ryan Leonard, an Oklahoma City attorney, who focused his comment on the new federal mandate on individuals to purchase health care insurance, saying, “It is an unprecedented form of federal action, and an intrusion into the personal lives of Americans. If the legal challenge to the federal mandate is successful, the law will fail.”
Leonard contended, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, “Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce. However, nowhere is Congress granted the authority to require an individual to engage in interstate commerce. The proposal passed today amounts to a ‘living tax,’ one imposed on every person merely because they choose not to buy health insurance.”